It happens on a Monday and not even a bad Monday. Peter is having a good chuckle over the utter success of the past week’s day trading when the doorbell rings. Italian coffee in one hand and a nibbled Cuban in the other, Peter doesn’t bother to tie his silk black robe as he heads to the front door. Since awaking from his crispy seven-year slumber, Peter has been delighted to find that while the Internet bubble did pop explosively, it has recovered with Super Saver Shipping and mail-order DVDs. Currently, Peter is expecting a bulk order of Dead Sea salts (he does so enjoy rejuvenating baths). Instead, he hears a screech of tires. When he looks down, it's to see a wicker basket, complete with a squirming, pink blanket. The contents inside smell like diaper powder and poop and...
With a growl, Peter takes a step back. Clearly, someone got the wrong door.
He lifts a carnation-colored flap. A sound emerges. Worse, yet, it’s happy. Peter suspects the noise might have been a gurgle, and when he flips the other panel, there are chubby mounds of cheeks. Eyes full of nosegay sparkle. Petal-bunched lips that pucker. Safety-pinned on the baby’s vanilla onesie is the message, “She’s yours, asshole.”
“No,” Peter tells the baby.
“Oo-ee!” the baby yells back.
“I haven’t even—” He pauses, doing the math. “I used a condom.”
The baby goes, “Ee-oo!”
“Right—except that a couple kind of broke. Bad batch, rough sex—it’s really none of your business.” Peter frowns. “She did say she was on birth control, though.”
The baby’s arms make a V. An insistent “Eh! Eh!” calls for him to scoop her up. And, well, Peter is planning on only sniffing the baby—after all, he remembers Talia going on and on about how she could detect her children’s scent anywhere—when there is a sudden pain on the side of his neck and Peter is smothering a yelp.
The baby has blood dribbled on her chin. Her eyes are a luminescent shade of blue and she makes a “ha!” sound that’s accompanied by a red smile.
Peter takes a moment to breathe, long and hard, and then he says, “Oh, fuck.”
- - -
“You can’t kill her.” Cora is bouncing the child in her arms. The baby keeps head-diving for the meat of her bicep.
“She’s rabid,” Peter protests. “Did you not see her eyes? The color?”
“Her daddy’s eyes are blue, too,” Cora says in a menacing coo.
Peter arches a nostril in distaste. “It’s different. I’m over the hill, despite my youthful good looks. However, little Carrie, here, is on the path to mass-murdering her nursery school.”
“She’s hungry.” Derek shows up with a plate of something that smells like…
“It was my first food,” Derek says with a shrug. He takes a bite for himself before holding it out for the baby.
Peter almost considers providing a disclaimer—he’s been trying to get Derek to like him lately—but gives up on it when the baby goes from greedily snapping at Cora’s arm to hungrily smacking her lips as she sniffs at the liver. When Derek pops the food in her waiting mouth, she makes a long mmmmmm-hmmm of small-person-pleasure before melting back in Cora’s arms.
“See,” Derek says, “hungry.”
“What if she ate another baby?” Peter thinks this is a valid concern.
“You have to name her,” Cora says, ruffling the baby’s hair. The baby, at least, did inherit Peter’s good looks—no matter if her manner is utterly uncouth. It had to be that Caitlin woman. That blow job had been with far too much teeth. It all makes sense.
“You could name her after Mom,” Derek says.
“I did like my sister,” Peter sighs heavily, before mumbling, “even if she was bossy.”
“Pick a name.” Cora is feeding the baby pieces of liver like they’re bird seed.
“Gobble,” Peter mutters.
“What about Great-gran’s?” Cora wipes at the baby’s chin.
“Oh, well, I did hate her. Though…” Peter grimaces. “Imogen?”
“I think it’s classy. It’s one of those names that takes a strong woman to own.” Cora winces through a knuckle crunch as the baby has decided Cora is not providing the liver fast enough.
Peter frowns before considering, “Imogen the Evil Baby.”
“She’s not evil. Just needy,” Derek says.
“She might be teething,” Cora adds helpfully.
“I don’t think she’s mine.”
Both Derek and Cora snort in unison.
“What?” Peter snaps.
“She has your scent,” Derek says slowly, as if Peter isn’t a total genius.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Watch this.” Derek motions so that Cora holds the baby up, who is frowning even as she continues to chew.
Derek flashes his red eyes at the baby.
Instead of cowing, the baby growls back with a mouth of points and flashing eyes.
“See?” Derek says.
Peter does not pout as he says, “I’m not keeping her.”
- - -
While Peter concocts a scheme for ridding himself of the small menace, there is the problem of infant care and homicide prevention. Cora and Derek insist that the baby sleep with him for “bonding.” (Really, they mean payback.) After a nipple lancing and a near miss with his right testicle, Peter buys a cage from the pet store and shuts a squawking Imogen up in the bathroom.
He wakes up in the morning with a bundle of snoring baby on his chest. There are shards of metal in a trail leading right up to his bed. “How did that not wake me up?” Peter wonders aloud.
On his chest, Imogen snuffles.
He considers moving (God, he wants coffee) but fears for the integrity of his intestines, so he lies back and covers his face with a pillow and curses his own virile potency. He’s alerted to Imogen’s wakefulness by a chomp on his rib. Throwing the bloody-mouthed baby over his shoulder, he says, “And you wonder why your mother gave you up.”
Imogen cackles in a mad-baby way as Peter takes her to the kitchen.
“We need to work on your tact,” Peter says as he cracks open a can of sardines and dumps it on a plate. “At this rate, I’m worried you’ll be more socially awkward than Derek.”
Imogen, to her credit, frowns as she pushes an entire fish in her mouth.
Peter smiles approvingly. “It’s not as good as the liver, but it does have easily digestible calcium and omega-3s.”
Chin bouncing in a nod-like way, Imogen dumps out the tin and packs as many fish as she can fit into her cheek pockets—so much so, that a fin hangs out as she chews. She does, Peter admits, have lovely rose-colored cheeks.
Then Stiles and Scott show up. Peter would refuse them admission to his den except that firstly, Stiles is wearing those ass pants (not for Peter, ew—for Derek) which means he and Peter’s stupid nephew might finally fuck; secondly, both Scott and Stiles hold grocery sacks filled with savory-smelling delicacies. Peter decides to see the food as a token of peace. “Fine. This is your sole warning. I will accept offers of food and childcare, but if the little cannibal decides to make you her afternoon snack, I don’t care and I don’t care and I don’t care.”
When they head into the kitchen, Imogen has decided the last fish no longer deserves cheek storage. After spitting it out, she has smeared its guts across Peter’s 1898 heirloom oak table. Upon seeing her new visitors, she jauntily greets them with a confetti of sardines spines.
As he picks the oily bits off his shirt, Stiles is frowning. “She’s adorable. Like those curls—those are from her mom, right?”
Peter runs a hand through his still impressively thick stands. “I might have had silken ringlets in my early days.”
Stiles doesn’t even remark on Peter’s comment. He’s still smiling at Imogen. “She’s how many months?”
“Seven or eight. She’s a wolf, so she’s been crawling for God knows how long. Cora thinks she’ll walk whenever she deigns to.”
Meanwhile, Scott has made the mistake of leaning in too close. After grinning at Imogen, who blinks, brow furrowed, back at him, Scott turns to ask, “So are wolf kids like pupp—” at the same time that Imogen grabs a fistful of his hair, yanks it to her fangs, and bites-rips with a ferocious growl.
Scott is holding the semi-bald patch on his head and shrieking like a girl as Stiles herniates on laughter.
Peter goes to Imogen and begins plucking the black mustache out of her mouth, even as she’s all hee-hee’s and fuzzy spits. “You’re too youthful to be concerned with flossing,” Peter tuts at her.
Scott, meanwhile, is pathetically barking, “It’s not funny!” while Stiles points at the white spot on Scott’s head and returns to hyperventilating as he clutches at his stomach.
What a moron. Peter glares at Scott. “Next time, don’t compare her to a dog. If you’re not an idiot, she might take pity on you.”
“Isn’t she supposed to like alphas?” Scott demands.
“Like” is not the word. Wearily ignoring Scott’s protests, Peter gives Imogen a bottle of milk. After biting off the nipple tip and spitting it out with a line of drool, Imogen proceeds to glug down the liquid. She sets it down with a gasp of happiness. Then she turns to Peter with a fresh whimper.
“But you ate everything,” he informs her.
He gets a growl in response.
“I’ve got this.” Stiles pulls out what is definitely a loop of sausage from his bag.
Eyes bulging, Imogen straight up howls and lunges out of her seat.
Only to be somewhat expertly pinned by Stiles. “Beautiful lady, you can’t just go for it like that. You’ll eat nasty-ass plastic. Let me help make it better. You deserve better.”
Imogen spits at him.
With a laugh, Stiles blows on her belly.
To Peter’s intense consternation, this causes an eruption of giggles.
“Hold still,” Stiles insists, and while never breaking eye contact with the baby, he opens the package of sausages.
“She’s going to bite you, man,” Scott says, still rubbing the spot on his head.
“No, she won’t,” Stiles says.
“Don’t be cocky,” Peter warns. “I suspect she’s killed for less.”
But to everyone’s amazement, Imogen does sit still as Stiles rips off a piece of sausage and holds it up.
She bounces and makes an “ah! ah!” sounds as her lips open and close, but then when Stiles tickles her belly, she only giggles again, and when he makes an airplane sound, her mouth stretches all the way open. After he pops the meat in, she kerplops on the floor and makes an eager squee that Peter takes to mean “again.”
“Seeing as you’re not yet dead, I’m taking a cigar out to the porch,” Peter says, and then he half-runs out his back door.
- - -
When he comes back inside, Derek and Cora have decided to show themselves. Cora has a pair of scissors in hand and appears to be making efforts to ameliorate Scott’s bald patch with a shorter hairstyle. (It’s not working.) Derek is with Stiles. They’re following Imogen around as she seems to be crawling the length of Peter’s living room, sniffing under furniture and in corners. As Imogen almost upends a planter (Stiles catches it), Peter says, “What.”
“We hid food around the house so that she could hunt it.” Derek is standing in front of Imogen, pointing a finger at the arm chair. Imogen doesn’t look like she’s ready to acknowledge the hint.
“She’s too wound up,” Stiles says, “Derek said they used to do this when they were kids.” Stiles casts a bashful glance at Derek.
To which Derek smiles at Stiles.
Oh, God, it’s so annoying.
The fact that his nephew is smiling at anyone is disturbing, but the fact that since Stiles came home from college, Derek has more or less mooned over Stilinski’s twiggy ass is all the more repugnant. Derek’s voice is fucking velvety as he says, “It was fun, playing with Cora and Ben and… Laura.” Peter does not get a smile. He gets a glare.
Always that reminder.
Imogen is currently scratching claw lengths in the carpet under the chair. Peter is not sure that strategically repositioning the chair will cover the cuts. “They played it in the woods,” Peter corrects. “Not in the living room.”
Imogen does, in fact, find the sausage under the chair; she emerges with the chunk of meat and gives a howl of victory.
Peter, Derek, and Stiles all clap in unison. Derek and Stiles are smiling at each other. And it’s when Stiles reaches down to mess Imogen’s curls—and Derek fucking melts—that Peter feels the beginnings of a plan. “You’re good with her,” Peter says to Stiles. Then to Derek, “So are you.”
Stiles ignores him to say, “There’s only one piece of sausage left.”
Derek says, “I’ll get the hot dogs.”
Peter knows how he’s going to regain his freedom.
- - -
That night Peter sits Imogen down on his bed and gives her an entire bowl of meatballs. Once she’s gotten enough in her tummy, Peter begins his instructions. “You don’t like me. You just like that I feed you. I prefer it that way, actually. Regardless of our end goals, I want to level with you. You’d be happier with someone you could handily manipulate. That won’t happen with me. I’m completely beyond that with my stellar intellect. So I say we get my nephew and that human brat together.”
Imogen, with a meatball in either cheek, blinks at him, so Peter clarifies, “Stiles is the human. He’s the one who blew raspberries on your belly and made elephant fart noises. My nephew is Derek, the alpha who you could easily manipulate to your advantage should you gain his trust.”
Imogen swallows one of the meatballs. Peter takes this as a sign of understanding.
“I suspect them of mutual infatuation. It was a crush while Stiles was in college, but now it’s blown up into absurd ridiculousness. You’re going to help me with this. We’re going to get them mated so that they’ll adopt you—while at the same time restoring Derek’s trust in me.”
Imogen hacks on the second meatball. Peter pats her back while she spits it back into the bowl. This, he feels, is already a sign of progress. Only this morning, she would have aimed for his lovely robe.
“Anyway, as I was saying, you’ll prefer their care giving. We just need to get them together. Do you think you can help me with that?”
Imogen, in a moment of intuitive brilliance, crushes a meatball in her fist.
“Good girl,” Peter approves.
- - -
Peter calls Derek. “Stiles wants to take Imogen on a nature hunt.”
Peter calls Stiles. “Derek wants to take Imogen on a nature hunt.”
He gives both of them the same excuse. “I’d go with you but,” Peter sighs wearily, “she kept me up all last night. I’m going to catch up on sleep.”
In fact, after the final bowl of meatballs, Imogen collapsed into such a deep slumber that she did not wake until eight a.m. the next morning, though Peter supposes that consuming ten thousand calories of protein should knock out even a baby werewolf. God, she really must have been starving.
No wonder she (likely) ate another baby.
Though, he’s slightly worried about both the grocery bill and police attention if she keeps this up. Maybe he can ask Cora to down a stag or two. Or Imogen can nab a bunny. As she rips a cotton version to green shreds with outrageous snarls, paying particular attention to shredding the fluffy tail, Peter supposes she might enjoy a nice hunt.
Whoever (Caitlin, that bitch) dumped her had 1990’s taste in clothes, so Peter has to make a trip to the store to find the right dress. Green with gold buckles and matching shoes. Not silver, shiver. Imogen, during the trip, does not flash her eyes or growl at anyone. If anything, she clings to Peter and eats eight strips of jerky, leaving crumbles down his shirt.
When dressed, she appears quite pleased with her new outfit. The green does compliment her complexion so. She even smells nice. Her absurdly full diaper has been long since buried in a hole out back. She refuses to let Peter put a new one on her, which he figures is just as well. If she needs to go in the woods, she can just go.
When Stiles shows up, Imogen makes all of the right squeals and even pulls up her dress to offer him her belly—and show him everything else, too.
“Where is her… underwear?” Stiles points at the bald display of baby girl private parts.
Peter shrugs. “I’m pretty sure she knows not to defecate in a moving vehicle. We discussed it prior to our previous excursion, and she complied accordingly. Here’s her lunch.” Peter hands a somewhat baffled-looking Stiles the latest grocery sack.
“This is so not how I expected to spend my Saturday,” Stiles says.
“You’re not having second thoughts, are you?” Peter makes an aghast face that Imogen mirrors perfectly. “Derek was so looking forward to this—as was Imogen.”
Imogen makes a high noise of agreement while a pink flush climbs Stiles’s neck.
Why would anyone ever think that Peter was anything but devious and brilliant?
After Stiles leaves, Peter takes a nice long bath with Dead Sea salts and lavender candles and Lady Enya lulling his mind to imperial, hearthstone palaces. It’s only once he’s dry and done with his stretches that he goes and digs out his long-range binoculars.
- - -
Peter has only just situated himself in the branch of an oak and gotten Stiles and Derek in his sights when there’s a sudden evacuation of starlings from the forest canopy and then a loud thump—as the whole tree shudders. Already knowing what he’ll see, Peter peers down through the leaves to where Imogen has her arms wrapped around the trunk.
“This is not what we discussed,” Peter says.
Imogen does not answer him, but that’s because she seems to have something in her mouth. And it’s still moving.
Parenting, Peter laments. “Let it go.”
After pouting in a fashion that is not similar at all to her father’s, Imogen spits out what appears to be a tiny garter snake.
“That is so disgusting I just can’t even—” Peter wipes at his brow as the black and yellow snake slithers away in exposed earthworm terror. Worse, he sees Imogen’s dress. It’s no longer green. It’s fucking camo.
With a sigh, Peter checks his binoculars to see that Derek and Stiles have yet to notice that Imogen has escaped them. They’re standing close, and even though the wind is wrong and he’s too far away to hear, Peter can feel the tension rising like steam between the two of them. One minute from dicks out, Peter is sure. “At least not everything is ruined.” He sighs, shaking his head at Imogen.
Face screwing up, Imogen makes a grumpy, “Mmmhfft!” sound and bangs the tree.
“Fine. One minute, then you’re heading back before they miss you.” Peter hops down from his branch.
Crowding into his space, Imogen immediately sniffs out the jerky in his pockets.
“If you could walk,” Peter suggests, holding the jerky hostage, “you’d be able to catch your own animal sustenance. Also, keep your dress clean.”
Imogen swipes a clawed hand at Peter, who shakes his head, and then says, “I’ll assist you. If you can take the steps, you get the jerky.”
Imogen is frowning at him like he’s lying.
“Fine,” Peter allows, “I won’t even take the tiniest piece. It will all be yours.” Sensing her approval, Peter picks up both hands and raises her to her feet.
She’s staring up at him with definite interest. He has her full attention. “Right…”—he lifts her right side—“then left.”
Imogen’s huge eyes seem to be calculating the requirements of the task. When not so wolfish, they are mixed shades of blue and green. A ring of honey surrounds the pupil with flecks of brown on the outer coasts. Peter’s own aren’t nearly so marbled.
“You can do this,” Peter assures her. “I suspect you do it secretly, anyway. There’s no way you could have ripped that metal cage apart and not also have the coordination to walk.” He tries the step-thing again.
Imogen huffs but apparently seems to be tolerating this activity as she permits him to walk her in a circle.
Peter switches to only holding one of hers. “Give it a try.”
Imogen whines for the jerky.
“That wasn’t the deal.” Peter demonstrates a double step, tugging Imogen to follow.
Clinging to his hand, Imogen does not step. Instead, she more or less pirouettes before somersaulting into a leaf pile.
Peter crosses his arms and glares. “If you can do gymnastics and dance on toe pointe, there’s no way I won’t believe that you aren’t capable of walking. Crawlers don’t get jerky.”
Imogen’s head pops out of the leaves. Her bottom lip is fully puffed.
“Again,” Peter says.
They get the one-handed walk down, though Imogen spends the whole walk with her chin arched high in the air.
“Excellent. Most babies are weak idiots. They can’t do this for many more months.”
Imogen—no matter that her dress is covered in bird poop, grass stains, and mud—uses Peter’s hand to twirl yet again in a circle. Her face says she knows that she is the prettiest thing. Her curls bounce and her cheeks are flushed from exercise, and she smells of newborn and fresh forest moss.
“You are indeed a comely child,” Peter admits with reluctance, and well, that might be a bit of an understatement. Her tiny hand mashed into his larger one is strangely comforting. It’s with an unusual amount of effort that he forces himself let go.
No matter that it’s new to her, Imogen balances easily. Though she doesn’t seem particularly enthusiastic about her newfound not-falling-over skill. She reaches out her hand to grab his.
“Not now. I’m going to go over here,” Peter explains as he marches to the other side of the glade to kneel down. “And you’re going to walk towards me.”
Imogen looks at the space between them—at least five good baby steps—and gives him a doubtful look.
“I believe in the power of my genes. I’m pretty sure I was already walking by this many months. You can do it too.”
Imogen glares down at the dirt as if it’s mocking her.
“If you can handle a snake in your mouth, you can manage bipedal motion. Trust me.”
Imogen looks up at him with her bright, shining eyes, and raises her knee straight up. It stays there, suspended for a beat, before coming down with a flat, crunch on the leaves. Imogen’s mouth comes open in surprise.
“That’s my girl,” Peter urges. “Now one more…”
She does it again because she is absurdly talented and supernaturally perfect, too.
Then, well, Peter can’t handle it any more. Before she can take a third step, he scoops her up into a rather tight hug—and he doesn’t even care when she bites him hard on the neck.
It’s a rude interruption, then, when Stiles’s voice, loud and annoying, says, “That might be the cutest fucking thing I have ever seen—also the most disturbing. You have blood dribbling down your neck, man.”
Peter sets Imogen down. And indeed, in addition to grass stains and mud, she now has blood mixed into the fabric. “You look like a tiny soldier,” he tells her.
When Imogen bares her teeth as a way of agreeing, Peter rounds on Derek and Stiles. They smell like spunk and dirt. Just how long was Peter focused on Imogen’s walking lesson? Also, Stiles has leaf imprints on the back of his jeans.
“You two are the worst babysitters ever.” Peter crosses his arms even as he mentally relishes in the success of his scheme. Now, for Stage II...
Stiles rubs the back of his neck, whereas Derek points at where Imogen has reached her hand into Peter’s pocket and is now extracting the promised jerky. “She wouldn’t wander away from pack. All of her instincts go against it. Besides, I smelled you.”
Liar. Liar. The only thing Derek smelled was Stiles. But Peter decides not to call him out on it. “You should finish your walk with her. Teach her to hunt things.”
Stiles blusters, “She just learned to walk!”
Peter sighs. “I blame the lack of protein on her slow motor skills. But then again, Hales learn fast. Well, some of them do. Others are slow on the uptake, like Derek.”
So dense. Peter has to point. “Might want to wipe that protein there off your jawline.” As Derek wipes at the white crust on his face, Peter cackles as Stiles looks pointedly at the leaf floor. Then Peter attempts to make a sweeping, villainous exit.
Problematically, he has a baby stuck to his leg.
“She likes you,” Stiles says like it’s the most unbelievably cute thing.
“She recognizes genius.” Which is a different thing entirely. Peter detaches Imogen from his leg and squats down. “Remember the meatball, darling.” Peter makes a tightly squeezed fist.
Imogen huffs, then as if resigned to it, toddles in Stiles’s direction. He picks her up and immediately tickles her belly, which gets Imogen to laugh.
See? Better parental figures.
Better than he.
Knowing this deep down in the barbecued pit of his soul, Peter evacuates the forest.
- - -
Imogen is babysat by most of the wolves in the pack—except for Scott, who has lost another patch of hair. Peter would feel sorry, except that Cora shaved Scott’s head into a near-mullet, and neither Peter nor Stiles can indefinitely hold down snickers in Scott’s presence.
Right, Imogen, for whatever reason, likes Stiles the best. She never bites him. She lets him tickle her and pet her, and cuddles with him the minute he walks into the room.
Peter is not jealous. Not in the slightest. This is part of the plan. In fact, the plan is going well. Derek and Stiles are sort of tied at the hip. And when Imogen curls up with the two of them, it is motherfucking Modern Family, okay?
At nights, Imogen sleeps curled up on his chest. Well, most of the time. She also likes to form a right angle with the headboard and push until he starts to slide off (but they’re working on that). Regardless, Peter doesn’t have time for a baby. He is supposed to be making money through shady deals—dating dangerous women—taking relaxing baths. Instead, he has spent a fortune on ruffled dresses. The only female attention he gets is from women who coo at the stroller—he has to quickly bat them away before Imogen decides their fingers look tasty. Taking a bath by one’s lonesome these days is simply not possible. Imogen always wants to join. And when Imogen joins, his quiet pond becomes an ocean gale with screaming sprays of water, waves slopping over the tub’s sides, and a slick runaway that slip ‘n slides across his Persian rugs. It is not relaxing.
What’s worse is that people start being nice to him.
Horrible Allison Argent with her button nose and darkly pretty eyes brings him a baby blanket with what appears to be a gigantic moon (that she knitted herself) into the design. “I hope she likes it,” she tells him earnestly.
Isaac makes Imogen a very tiny toy chest—so tiny that Peter doesn’t actually think it will be useful. “I didn’t want to make it big enough for her to fit into it.” Isaac seems to be unaware that his gift will likely be ripped to shreds within the week.
Melissa McCall, who hates Peter with an undying passion, shows up with an enormous bag of oranges and a Costco-sized bag of bacon, and well, Peter only hits on her a little. And when he does, she doesn’t even glare at him. She even changes Imogen’s diaper.
Lydia is more useful—if full of glares at Peter. Imogen is polite to her. When Lydia brings her a new outfit, Imogen lets herself be dressed (and does not throw her diaper in Lydia’s face or even pull Lydia’s hair, like she tries with Cora). Instead, she smiles shyly and then curls up in Lydia’s lap as Lydia sings Imogen to sleep. Banshees must have magical voices. That’s what Peter decides.
And then there’s the full moon.
Peter and the pack go deep into the Preserve. Imogen bounces on his shoulders the entire way, and when humanity is a distant shadow and the only light they know is lunar shine, Peter sets her down into the grass and lets her rampage on all fours. Fully formed into a little beta wolf, she is all snarls and fuzzy wolf pup. Pine cones are shredded. Ant hills decimated. There’s a confrontation with a raccoon that is as big as she is. The entire pack spends most of the night keeping her corralled.
(She does manage to catch a bunny, though—Peter is proud of that.)
But then another week goes by, and Derek’s getting a new apartment, and Stiles is maybe moving in with him.
Peter realizes it’s now or never. “You should take Imogen,” he tells the both of them. When they stare blankly at him, he adds, “It’s not like I won’t be around. But it will be better for her.”
Stiles, like the rest of the humans in Peter’s life, is looking at him with way too much exasperating empathy. “Are you sure you really mean that?”
“She needs to be around caring people,” Peter says, and then, when neither Stiles nor Derek contradict him on this, he leaves the room.
- - -
Peter packs two suitcases of Imogen’s wardrobe. The rubber ducky is missing its tail feathers, but that goes in the basket, too. (The shreds of Isaac’s box get tossed in the dumpster.) And even if they’ll never listen to it, Peter tucks in the Enya CD, because that one time when she was fussy, it helped Imogen go to sleep.
“It’s time,” he tells her.
Imogen frowns at him with her head cocked to the side.
“You understand me,” he says, though he’s not looking at her. “This is the final squeeze of the meatball.”
Imogen makes a soft noise as he lifts her into the car seat. Peter doesn’t know what it means.
Derek and Stiles’s new abode is a little yellow house with a back garden and high shrubs that will hide (most) werewolf shenanigans from the neighbors. Stiles keeps joking about a white picket fence, but Derek’s eyes get a gleam every time Stiles says the three words, and Peter thinks he might see whitewashed wooden planks laid out across the yard any day now.
Today, though, Peter is bringing the newest family member to the house. She’s uncertain until she sees Stiles. Then there’s a gleeful holler, and Imogen launches herself into his baby-werewolf-whispering arms.
To his credit, Peter does not immediately drive off.
Or murder Stiles.
No, he grabs the bags out of the back of the car and marches them into the house, down the hallway, to where the second bedroom is painted forest green with pictures of animals on the walls.
It’s so fucking cute. There’s even a floor mattress (Stiles had asked about a crib, and Peter had laughed uproariously) with Allison’s blanket already laid out on it. It’s the sort of place a little baby girl deserves. And so Peter tells himself that he’s doing the right thing, and he marches for the front door.
He’s stopped by two feet of baby girl. Imogen grabs onto his leg and digs in her claws.
Squatting down, Peter looks her in the eyes. “Baby, it’s time for me to go.”
Lip sucked in, Imogen growls.
“I’m not the best—”
God, Peter doesn’t even know where to start. He’s murdered people. His own damn niece. And okay, the nurse was kind of a bitch but still. Though there’s zero regret when it comes to Kate Argent (he’d do it again for what she did to his family), Peter manipulated Derek and Lydia. The way he earns his living—through “magically informed” gambling on the Internet—not exactly respectable, okay? So Peter makes himself own who he is. He makes himself finish the sentence.
“I’m not the best dad. You already have murderous tendencies—and if you live with me—well. Just you deserve better. Real examples.” Then he leans down to press his lips onto the fuzzy softness of his daughter’s cheek.
When he pulls back, Imogen’s eyes are twin oceans. Not what he wants. She’s supposed to be happy.
“I’ll be back,” he promises.
She makes a noise like a whimper. She grabs for him.
It’s a grace when Derek comes into the room to scoop her up.
Peter forces himself to stand and take step after step until he reaches the door. He feels hot all over, like he’s coming down with a fever, and when wipes at his eyes, it is only winter’s cold that is making him wheeze. That’s all.
“Peter—” Derek starts, and there’s so much fucking pity that Peter can’t stand it.
“No,” he snarls, and he grapples for the knob.
He has the door open and he’s prepared to take a step through when there’s a choke of a small sob and the sound of “Da-Da!” is screeched at his back.
Peter makes the mistake of turning back around.
Imogen is red-faced and squirming like a cat in Derek’s arms, and she’s saying her first word—Da-Da—and it’s not some accident of syllables—because Imogen is smart because she’s his kid, and Peter realizes that he can’t fucking do this.
He holds out his arms, and Imogen straight-up catapults. And then he has wet coils buried against his neck and chubby fingers pressing into his face, and Peter is a selfish, horrible person, but he think he might kill anyone who tries to take her away.
In the background, he hears Stiles say, “So he figured it out, huh?”
“Took him long enough,” Derek mutters.
Peter clutches his baby girl close.
- - -
So it’s still an uphill battle. Getting Imogen to stop biting people is a series of hurdles. She still refuses to sleep in a separate bed and kicks Peter while she dreams. Also, that Stiles remains her second favorite annoys Peter to no end. But Peter gets the paperwork sorted out. He hunts down her original birth certificate and gets an official waiver of custody from her birth mother. As for Imogen’s blue (and therefore murderous) eyes, it seems that she gave her maternal grandmother a heart attack (which Peter doesn’t see how that counts, but whatever). Nevertheless, Imogen learns new words, like “no” and “mine” and “meatball,” and she grows like a weed. On full moons, she holds Peter’s hand, and when he says, “Meatball,” she can sometimes control the shift simply by focusing on him.
It’s several months later on a bright summer morning when Imogen declares, “Bunny,” and so instead of taking his bath, Peter somehow ends up slogging through the humidity of the forest.
It’s when Imogen’s holding up a fluffy white tail that Peter frowns and says, “Meatball.”
“Meatball?” Imogen sets down the still-draining hare.
“I told you that you could manipulate Derek and Stiles. I told you they would be the easiest. But you saw through me. I didn’t have a bath today. We’re out playing with fur and guts because I am the sucker here.”
“Meatball.” Imogen nods in understanding before looking up with a smile. “Daddy.”
“Oh, come here.” Peter throws open his arms.