They find the baby under a butterfly bush, a sweet smelling buddleja with purple flowers and narrow, green leaves. The baby is dirty, wet and hungry, wrapped in a fur blanket, and this close its squalling is loud enough to wake the dead. Up until now, it has been loud enough to catch Derek’s attention from three miles away, give or take.
“Oh,” Stiles says. “Oh, oh my god.” Then he’s on his knees, digging the baby out and holding it against his chest. The baby is a warm, wriggling weight in his arms, angry and screaming. It should hurt his ears, but Stiles is way beyond caring about shit like that because, case in point: abandoned baby in the woods. “What the fuck— Who the fuck just leaves a baby—”
“I don’t know,” Derek says. He’s doing the whole “werewolves have infrared vision” thing that will most likely never stop being one of the most awesome and weird werewolf-things ever, eyes bright blue, scanning the area at large, carefully looking over the spot where the baby had been.
The baby is still screaming, even as it’s pressed close to Stiles chest, basically skin-on-skin contact and it’s trying to suck on anything that’s close to its mouth. Shit, it must be starving, Stiles thinks.
“Dude, we need food, pronto. What do babies eat?”
Derek looks momentarily startled. “Uh,” he says.
Stiles nods. “Right, of course,” he agrees. “Back to the Batmobile, Alfred, we’re going to see my dad.”
Derek looks cagey and a bit reluctant, but he always does when Stiles’ dad is in the picture. He just says, “Not at the station.”
Stiles surmises it’s a werewolf situation, so he doesn’t call it in. It’s been a while since they had one of those. What he does do is get in Derek’s car, shoot a text off to Dad, then tries to calm the baby as best as he can. Considering he hasn’t been near a baby since Melissa had him help out at the hospital that one summer when he was nineteen, he thinks he’s doing pretty great.
That is: he thinks he’s doing well until the incident.
The baby eventually quietens enough in the car that Stiles can lower it a little, can shift the pelt out of the way to ascertain that, yep, the baby is very much a healthy little girl who grabs the moment of freedom to kick her legs and relieve herself in a golden arc all over Stiles and the passenger seat.
“Oh my god, dude, how do I stop it? Derek, how do I stop her— Oh, god, it’s everywhere.”
Later, Dad takes five minutes to laugh at Stiles. First, though, Dad just rubs a hand over his eyes and says, “What did you do, Stiles.”
“It wasn’t me!” Stiles protests at once. He’s several shirts short, has a naked and warm baby cradled to his chest and everything smells vaguely of pee. It’s quite frankly disgusting. Derek’s nose is scrunched up, but at least he’s stopped cursing about his car getting messy and leather seats and whether or not they were easy to clean and sanitize from baby pee.
“Please tell me you didn’t kidnap a baby.”
Stiles squawks in outrage. He’d point at Derek accusingly if he didn’t have his hands full of semi-sleepy baby. Who they still need to feed, dammit. “Derek heard her cry from, like, the other side of town,” Stiles says. “We were eating burgers at Joe’s, I think that’s at least three miles away. I picked her up and then she, she peed on me in the car, Dad.”
“In my car,” Derek growls under his breath.
Dad’s lips twitch (Dad is a traitor). “Where exactly did you find her?”
“A mile outside the old abandoned farmhouse in the woods,” Derek says. “Under a bush. It smelled like she’d been there a while.”
“How long is a while?” Dad asks. “Babies don’t survive for very long on their own in an outside environment.”
“She smells like— Animals typically stay clear of shifters,” Derek says, looking curiously enough at Dad but carefully avoiding looking at Stiles. It’s weird and pretty much the opposite of how the three of them usually act together and it doesn’t make sense until Derek adds, “Shifters have a, a spice to their scent that most animals naturally tend to stay away from.”
Dad raises an eyebrow. “A spice, you say?”
Derek nods. “Yeah, like a bit of the magic that makes it possible at all sticks with you in whatever shape you take. Mom said it smelled like cinnamon to her, but I always caught it as chili.”
“Oh my god,” Stiles says. “Oh my god, you knew? All this time? You knew and— You, you asshole!”
“Sorry, Dad, but Derek—”
“If you don’t talk about something, it’s for a reason,” Derek says, rolling his eyes. Stiles narrows his, because this is pretty much Derek’s typical M.O. of “it’s not my fault you think I’m stupid and never know what’s happening” when he always knows way more than you think because Derek never fucking lets on that he’s on par with Lydia Martin in the brains department. There’s a smirk playing at the edges of Derek’s mouth and Stiles glares at it, feeling petty and vindictive. If he wasn’t holding a baby, Stiles would totally hit him.
“Anyway,” Derek is saying to Stiles’ dad, “A day, maybe? Probably less but it’s hard to say for sure.”
Dad nods. “I’ll need to go check in with the station, see if I can find any leads on missing people or babies that match up. You two need to talk some things out.”
“Stiles, I know you can talk without difficulties. Derek—” Dad purses his lips and gives Derek a quick look-over— “Well, I suppose Stiles talks enough for two anyway. Really, son, it’s your own fault. I told you—”
Stiles would take offense at that, he would, but he’s pretty sure they all know that Dad is fucking right this time. “Yeah, yeah, save the ‘I told you so.’” Anyway: priorities. “What about the baby, Dad? I don’t know a lot about babies and she’s hungry, like, what do they eat?”
“I’ll send Melissa over,” Dad says. “When you were that size, Claudia breastfed you. For all I know, there’s a special formula for that.”
There is a special formula for newborns. Melissa looks the baby over carefully, examines her in ways that Stiles knows literally nothing about – though he doubts the toe counting and feet kissing and stomach nuzzling is in any way professional, standard newborn procedural. When she’s done, Stiles has some formula ready in a bottle for the baby to take and Melissa talks Stiles through the feeding, how to hold the baby, to support the head and to burp her afterwards.
“Is she a werewolf?” Melissa asks Derek as Stiles stares down at the blissfully sleeping baby in his arms.
“I don’t know. She’s not human,” Derek says. He picks up the fur blanket and holds it out. Whatever animal it belonged to was small and the fur is soft brown. “I know of some shifters who need their skin to change but I can’t tell if this is a pelt like that or just something whoever left the baby out there had nearby.”
“Are we talking like a selkie here, Derek?” Stiles asks. “Should we be feeding her fish?”
“She’s a baby, Stiles, and I don’t know.”
Stiles huffs. He strokes his fingers down the baby’s impossibly smooth cheek. “Are you a selkie, baby?”
The baby doesn’t answer. She squirms a little and rubs a tiny little hands over a pudgy cheek, sleepily grabbing hold of Stiles’ finger. Stiles practically feels his heart melt. It’s stuff like this that gets his biological clock ticking – and screw you if you think that only people equipped with fully functional uteruses have them. It’s not that he’s old or that he’s bitter that he’s single. Dad would probably argue that “just out of college and the police academy” is too young to contemplate kids and family and settling down, but Stiles… Well, Stiles is definitely feeling the urge to do that. He has for a while.
He wants to nest and he wants to do it now. He doesn’t want a partner, necessarily, but he longs for someone to take care of, to nourish and love and cherish. He thinks a baby is probably pretty much perfect and fulfil each and every one of those criteria.
They put the baby to sleep in a laundry basket. Stiles maybe fusses a little to make sure she’s comfortable, but then Derek stills his hands, squeezes his shoulder and silently leads him to the kitchen.
“You’re good at taking care of people,” Derek says.
Stiles shrugs. “It’s part ADHD, part me, I guess.” Derek frowns a little, so Stiles adds, “Like how I can’t sit still during movies. After, when Mom— Taking care of Dad helped me keep busy. It calmed things down up here a little.” He taps his head, then he swallows and fidgets a little. “Do the others know? About, about—”
“No,” Derek says. “I notice because Mom taught us to when we were kids. She’d take us to the library—” Stiles inhales sharply, because his mom— It was his mom— “And she’d ask us to find out who wasn’t human by scent and if we did it without drawing attention, then we’d get an ice-cream.”
“I think your mom was in on the game,” Derek continues, his voice a little more low. “She’d move around, never be in the same spot twice. Sometimes it was like her scent would just vanish.”
“She taught me to hunt,” Stiles says. “She was— Mom was good. She grew up with all this, you know? I think Dad was practically the first human without ties to the supernatural that she’d ever come in contact with.”
Derek nods. It’s a long while before he asks, “How old were you?”
“Ten,” Stiles says. “I was ten.”
“I know how to stay in control,” Stiles says. “I had panic attacks for years. I used to be terrified that I’d kill my dad or that I’d just lose control. Then Scott got turned into a werewolf and suddenly it didn’t matter anymore. I never forgot, but I could put it behind me? Like, if I just focused enough on Scott and you guys, then I wouldn’t have to think about me and, man, that’s just so much easier because half the time—” Stiles shakes his head and looks away.
“Half the time, I don’t even know what the fuck I am anymore or if I’m just going insane.” Stiles bites his lips. “Still going insane.”
“You’re not going insane,” Derek says, curling a hand over Stiles’ and squeezing. Stiles shifts closer and moves until he can lean his head on Derek’s shoulder. “I’m not saying we’re not all a little crazy and fucked up, but insanity isn’t on the table for any of us.” He pauses a little, then adds. “Well, maybe Peter.”
“Peter’s a psycho, you can’t count him. I just mean that sometimes I wonder if I made everything up, if it was ever real.”
“It was real,” Derek says, running a thumb over Stiles’ hand. “It is real.”
Later, Derek asks why Stiles never said anything years ago, after— After everything calmed down. When the nemeton was dealt with and there hadn’t been a new threat in Beacon Hills for months. There still hasn’t been a new threat, not like back then, anyway. Sure, they’ve had hunters and omegas, but the days of alpha packs and kanimas and evil druids are behind them.
“I was in college,” Stiles says. “Like, dude, me and Lydia were pretty busy acing our classes and the rest of the pack were just spread out all over the country doing whatever. What good would me suddenly announcing that, ‘hey, not so human after all!’ have done? And besides, you think I never wondered what people would say if I came out? If you guys would think I’d betrayed you and if Allison would think I’d just pretended to get her and her dad to disclose hunter secrets and—”
“And Scott,” Derek finishes.
“Yeah. Scott. He’s my best friend and I never told him because Mom…” Stiles trails off and shrugs. “I guess you probably know better than anyone what she told me to do. By the time it mattered and might’ve made a difference, I’d half convinced myself it wasn’t even real in the first place, that I’d dreamed it all.”
“When was the last time you changed?”
Stiles shrugs and looks down at his hands. He curls his fingers in towards his palm and tries to imagine them as talons, tries to imagine his skin turning hard and rough. “I don’t know,” he eventually says. “My shift isn’t tied to the moon, I don’t go crazy once a month like you guys, I just… I don’t know.”
“Deaton says you have a spark.”
“Yeah.” Stiles wets his lips, darts a glance at Derek. “It’s right where Mom always said it’d be.”
Derek nods. “What are you?”
Stiles is about to answer, but the wailing of a baby cuts him off. Well, that, and the smashing of a window.
After, Stiles bets that the stupid asshole trying to kidnap a baby didn’t bet on her having been found by a pack of werewolves – even if only half of the members present actually was a werewolf – because the look of shock on the face of the guy reaching for the baby in the cradle (read: refurbished laundry basket) is pretty epic.
Stiles would bet his left kidney on the fact that the guy didn’t know werewolves were the real deal, either, because he shouts, “Demon!” at Derek and sprays some weird concoction of herbs and smelly stuff in his face. It doesn’t incapacitate Derek as such, but it does blind and have him down on his knees long enough that the would-be-abductor gets one foot back out the window before Stiles can get to him and kick his other foot out from under him.
It’s Stiles who drags the guy back into the house and it’s Stiles who manhandles him around and over onto his stomach, tying the guy’s wrists behind his back with zip ties.
“You have the right to remain silent,” Stiles starts and the guy goes weirdly still underneath him. It gives Stiles a familiar rush of satisfaction: there’s a reason Dad has him do under-cover stuff and badass sneakery around town; no one expects Stiles to be, well, a total badass of the law. Stiles is constantly underestimated and it nearly fucking always works to his advantage.
Stiles arrests the guy on breaking and entering charges. It won’t hold him forever, but it’ll get him out of the picture long enough for Stiles and Derek to regroup.
It used to be that people – werewolves, hunters, supernatural affiliates – underestimated Stiles because he was a skinny human teenager. Technically, Stiles was never human but he’s always been a master at suppressing himself – suppressing parts of himself because sometimes hiding and denying is so much easier than the alternative.
Like letting everyone know about his epic crush on Lydia back in high school just so no one would notice him sneaking glances in the shower after lacrosse practice was so much easier, especially when there’s something about the angle and jut of collarbones that appeal to him, about hands and jawlines and the nape of a neck. Letting the crush become common knowledge was easier than acknowledging that Stiles liked to look, liked to admire parts of bodies, curves and angles, slopes and smiles, without ever being attracted to any of it. Stiles still isn’t sure if he ever was sexually attracted to Lydia, or if it was her brains and her beauty and sharp mouth that appealed to him.
Like he said: Stiles is a pro at deflecting.
These days people underestimate Stiles because he’s still pale and skinny, even if he’s not a teenager anymore. No, he’s just a run-of-the-mill human thrown in with a pack of werewolves, hunters and a banshee. Except he’s got a spark – because he’s not actually human, just damn good at pretending – and he’s a deputy at the Sheriff’s department. He’s not the youngest recruit by two months and he will fucking flaunt those two months in your face and mock by sticking his tongue out (he’s not, however, stupid enough to do so in Cora’s presence because she would claws his tongue out and pin it on the wall).
Dad usually just rolls his eyes at Stiles’ antics.
“So you’re saying the guy smashed the window and tried to kidnap the baby?” Dad asks. He’s got a pad out and there’s a legal representative lurking just behind Dad’s shoulder.
“That’s exactly what I’m saying. I have no idea what he sprayed in Derek’s face, but he clearly wasn’t expecting me to stop him from making a run for it.”
Stiles is pretty sure this tradition started up sometime during Stiles’ first year at college. He’d drive back to Beacon Hills over the weekends, hang out a bit with Dad, say hi to Melissa, bump into whatever member of the pack that was in town, then he and Derek would join in on the kombatan classes held every Sunday morning in the park.
Since then, they’ve moved on from the kombatan and the self-defence classes to the local kick-boxing classes held at the gym – Stiles still isn’t sure how they ended doing yoga for that one term, or who thought it was a good idea to let Stiles try his hand at step aerobics because he isn’t anywhere near coordinated enough for it. He’s pretty sure Derek kept a tally of how many times Stiles almost brained either himself or whoever was unfortunate enough to be working out next to him.
Presently, Derek is taking him out to the preserve as it’s now officially the weekend which means that they both have time off work. Stiles is a little confused – and also a lot tired, because babies understand nothing about needing eight hours of consecutive sleep. Right now, the baby is fast asleep in her little car seat and Stiles is deeply jealous of her.
They leave the baby in the trunk of Derek’s car with all the doors open wide and they don’t go further than five feet away – Stiles is maybe a little bit paranoid, but Derek isn’t exactly any better. Stiles is pretty sure he’s seen Derek’s ears move every time there’s so much as a sound coming from the direction of the car.
“We need to work on your shift,” Derek says.
“Nope,” Stiles counters.
“Yes, Stiles, we do. Preferably before some hunter comes along and figures out—”
“How would they do that, huh? No one knows except you and Dad, so how would some hunter just suddenly find out?”
“Oh, I don’t know, maybe by tracing your genealogy? If there are specialist hunters out there for werewolves who know what I am just because of my last name, then what do you think the odds are that there are hunters out there for you?”
“I hate it when you use logic,” Stiles mutters.
“And you still haven’t told me what you are.”
Stiles narrows his eyes. “You’re never allowed to say I’m harping on about anything after this, man. Never.”
“Stiles, you make dog jokes to this day—”
“Not the point!” Stiles protests. “I use sarcasm and shitty jokes as, as a way of showing affection. It’s affectionate jokes that mean I care, right, and—”
“Harpy? Really, Stiles?”
“Can you fly? Do you grow wings and stuff?”
“I don’t know,” Stiles says. “I remember the talons, but…”
“I don’t know if the wings are exclusive to the alpha form or not, okay. I mean, I know Mom could because I remember Dad telling me about how she once flew to the top of a redwood tree just to see if birds nested that high up or not, but I just recall the claws and the eyes and the…”
“The?” Derek prompts. “What? Disappearing eyebrows? Sideburns? Toe-claws?”
“I hate you,” Stiles says, because Derek’s mouth is twitching in a way that means he’s only just holding back the Hale version of a shit eating grin. “My skin goes weird. Hard, like armor. And there’s feathers.”
“In my hair.”
When Derek looks away, Stiles throws pine cones at his shaking shoulders. “I hate you,” he hisses again.
“It explains the shrieking.”
“The— I don’t shriek!”
“And the flailing.”
Stiles splutters, but there isn’t really anything he can say about that one, except, “I grew out of that!”
“So last week when you destroyed that stand at the cinema was a gust of wind? And yesterday at the diner—”
“Done, Derek, we are done.”
Eventually, Stiles finds himself sitting cross-legged opposite Derek on the ground. The pine-cone that was formerly digging into his ass, then lobbed at Derek’s head, is now crushed to dust by Derek’s shoes because Derek’s a freak who prefers to be barefoot when he communes with nature.
“Do you remember the meditation when we did yoga?”
“Vaguely,” Stiles says. “I was always too busy making furniture for my mental room.”
“I’m not surprised.”
“Hey, I had some kickass stuff in there. Don’t judge.”
“I’m not judging, just close your eyes and focus on your breathing.”
“It doesn’t matter. I want you to settle and ground yourself, then reach into that part where your spark is and tap it.”
Stiles’ breathing speeds up and Derek no doubt picks up on the sudden spike in his heartbeat. “I don’t know—”
“Stiles, do you trust me?”
“That’s a stupid question, asshole. I’m saying I have no fucking idea what’ll happen.”
“And I’m a born werewolf who’s dealt with more first-time shifters than I want to name, Stiles. I can take it.”
“Even if I sprout feathers and wings and razor-sharp talons?”
“Even then. Close your eyes. I’ll talk you through it.”
“In theory, I already know how to do this. I’ve done it before.”
“When you were how old? Please, do remind me again, Stiles.”
Stiles rolls his eyes and blows out his breath explosively. Like he said to Derek: Stiles knows how to do this, remembers doing it before his mom—
When Stiles was five he insisted on helping Mom and Dad blow balloons for his birthday party. He remembers that even though Stiles was a hyperactive little shit who couldn’t sit still or keep quiet, his parents never said that he couldn’t help. So Dad sat him on his lap, blew the balloons full of air and Stiles sat ready with the strings. Mom probably finished five to Stiles’ one, but that wasn’t really the point.
Stiles may have had some difficulties focusing and concentrating on one task at the time – it was a problem, shut up – but nothing bad ever happened, you know? Nothing except growing a set of sharp as hell talons and blowing up the balloon.
That’s the first time Stiles remembers shifting.
He remembers being terrified and excited all at once, because he had sharp things coming out of his hands like Wolverine, and he’d waved his hands in the air and shouted until Mom put her hands over his.
“Stiles, honey, you don’t want to destroy all the balloons before your party, do you?”
“I know.” Mom smiled and her fingers shifted into talons as well. She put one under Stiles’ chin, the bony side of her finger, to make him look at her. “They aren’t toys, remember?”
“I’m gonna be just like you?”
“Just like me,” Mom promised. “Now try and see if you can put them away. Dad and I’ll help.”
A werewolf’s claws are less transformative, Stiles thinks, looking at his hands now. His fingers are longer – bonier and thinner and harder – and his talons are curved and sharp. Deadly. Perfect to catch fish with, Mom always said. Stiles never managed to catch any because his patience usually ran out. That, and he scared off the fish with his talking.
“They didn’t used to look like this.”
“You had smaller hands.”
“Yeah, no, that’s not— I mean, Mom’s hands looked like this. Mine used to be somewhere between this and yours.”
Derek nods. “Which means that either this is the mature form, or…”
“Yeah, I think I’m going with ‘or’ here,” Stiles says. “What colour are my eyes?”
“If you only change them, then you’re set for whatever demon on Supernatural you like.”
Stiles smiles. “Huh,” he says. “They always did that. Mom’s too. Do I have feathers? Like, when I was a kid sometimes there’d be down in my hair.”
Derek narrows his eyes a little, tensing the corners. It’s something Derek does, something Stiles thinks is an abortive movement – like what he’d really planned on doing was using his werewolf-vision, then realized halfway-through that he doesn’t need enhanced, supernatural vision to see feathers in Stiles’ hair and stopped. Derek leans closer and Stiles sits very still as Derek’s hands come up and start combing through Stiles’ hair. Stiles doesn’t even try to suppress the shivers Derek’s hands running through his hair evoke. They leave his eyes heavily lidded and if he could, he’s pretty sure he’d be purring. Totally purring. Purring so loud you don’t even know.
“There aren’t a lot of them,” Derek eventually says. “They’re short and brown like your hair. You can feel them, the quills and the texture of the feathers.” He flashes a half-smile. “No wings, though.”
Stiles is very proud that he manages to not look away from Derek’s stupidly colored eyes, but his heart isn’t as smart – or as easy to manipulate.
“I stopped,” Stiles mutters. Derek sighs and rolls his eyes, no doubt about to say something scathing, but Stiles cuts in. “No, seriously. My back started burning and I freaked out. So I stopped. Honestly, what did you expect, Derek? Me to rip my shirt to shreds and take to the skies with a fearsome cry?”
“You know we have to tell the rest of the pack.”
Stiles groans and rolls over on his back. His shoulders ache and his breastbones hurt, but at least now he knows he can sprout wings if he focuses hard enough. Derek’s feeding the baby over by the car, her eyes wide and focused on the bottle. She’s ridiculously cute and adorable, and Stiles’ heart does fuzzy, funny things every second he’s with her.
“Probably Chris, too. I don’t trust him but he’s been good at keeping most of the other big hunting families away.”
“How come Peter hasn’t bothered me about this?”
“I don’t know. Maybe he can’t tell?”
“Yeah, like that’s likely. I think it’s more that he hasn’t figured out how me being a harpy can help further him.” Stiles raises a hand over him, watches the sunlight filter through his fingers as he lets the change sweep over him. He keeps it locked on his hand, tries to change only a small part of him. “Or maybe he’s afraid of my super bad talons. Hey, dude, I could totally rip your throat out with these.”
“Shut up, Stiles.”
“No, for real. I could easily do some lasting damage with these.”
“Yeah, sure, when you trip over your feet and eviscerate yourself.”
Stiles takes the baby and the pelt she was wrapped in to Deaton the next day. Derek is at work, managing a new exhibition at his fancy art museum, so Stiles makes use of the hours before his shift starts to investigate in his mystery baby a little more.
So far Dad hasn’t turned up anything at work, but Stiles knows far too well just how much the fact that you have to use the station’s resources and look everything up under the radar, that the need to keep everything unofficial hampers the investigation in a major way. If Deaton doesn’t know anything either, Stiles thinks the next safe bet would probably be to take advantage of Chris and his hunter connections.
It isn’t that Deaton doesn’t know anything: it’s that he doesn’t know anything useful pertaining to this specific situation. He does tell Stiles that the hide is from a deer, though, and that pretty much puts an end to the theory that the baby is some kind of shifter that needs a pelt to transform.
“So Chris, my man—” Chris glares and Stiles winces. “Yeah, I know, not getting too friendly or familiar or even mention that you and Dad get together and drink beer and commiserate over having kids who— Anyway. If I told you that my mom’s maiden name was Demopoulos, would that, like, mean anything to you?” Stiles bites his lips, winces a little, because that’s Chris’ annoyed face, right there. “Anything at all?”
Chris sort of looks away while not looking away all at the same time, and the glare on his face is dark and scary and tired and so exasperated. “Are you saying your mother was a harpy, Stiles? Now? When I’m finally thinking that there’s nothing more supernatural this town has to offer?”
“The timing was never right. Sorry?”
“So what changed?”
Stiles shrugs. “Derek might have mentioned that he could tell when people are shifters by scent. I don’t hide my scent. Ergo.” He makes a neat little “voila” gesture at himself with his hands. He briefly considers making a pirouette, but that would just be over the top and also unnecessary.
Chris glances at the sleeping baby in the car seat on his desk. “And why would he have done that?”
“I don’t think that’s any of your business.”
“Threats to this town are my business, Stiles.”
“I thought you were retired.”
“Retired, yes. Not stupid. If that baby is a shifter—”
Stiles groans and rolls his eyes. “See, I thought you and Dad hashed these things out on your old-man-dates.”
“Your father isn’t attached to the hip of Derek Hale, Stiles. The attempted break-in at your place. They were after the baby?”
“Looks that way, yeah. No ID on him and he won’t talk. So far he hasn’t turned up in any official databases, but we’re holding him for now.”
“No identity,” Stiles stresses. “He has zero money on him and he won’t make a phone call. We have no idea who the guy is and we only have Derek’s word on that he’s human, which gets us nowhere because there are a lot of supernatural baddies out there who can hide their scent.
“Derek estimated that the baby had been in the woods for a day or less, which gives us a window to look up missing persons. Melissa thinks the baby is young enough that we’re talking days, not weeks, in terms of age. We have search variables, there’s just not turning up anything. Then there was the concoction the guy sprayed in Derek’s face…”
“What of it?”
“It had Derek down on his knees in a second and it blinded him for fifteen minutes. I’ve only seen wolfsbane or possibly mountain ash do that to werewolves, but the real kicker here is that there wasn’t any of that in it. I’ve given some to Deaton to figure out, but so far he hasn’t got anything.”
“Stiles,” Chris calls as Stiles is about to leave.
“You didn’t happen to inherit that particular strand from your mother, did you?”
Stiles manages to turn his eyes and nothing else, but he doesn’t really say anything because he’s suddenly busy making sure the baby is properly secured in the carseat. Which is difficult to do when you’re looking somewhere else. Besides, Chris isn’t half as scary after you’ve seen him rocking and burping a baby.
“There are hunters,” Chris says.
“Aren’t there always?”
“Werewolves don’t have the same kind of myths attached to them. Hunters going after your kind aren’t as… ethical as your typical werewolf hunter.”
“Is this because I’m some kind of freaky walking, talking potion ingredient?”
“Just be careful,” Chris says. “Trust me when I say you don’t want to attract the attention of people like that.”
Two weeks go by. A month, then two. The baby is officially declared missing – by Dad and the pack and Chris, just not by any legal channels because as far as anyone in town is concerned Stiles has been long-term babysitting for a friend who’s going through “issues” – and while there are a lot of kids who go missing out there, none of them is Stiles’ baby. Stiles knows he’s getting too attached – they are all getting too attached. He knows it when he finds himself considering names, when he spontaneously buys cutesy baby outfits, when he finds himself thinking of her as his.
They find a woman cut in two in the forest outside the nearest neighboring town a week after that. The estimate is that she’s been dead for a while – long enough for her to be the baby’s mom. When they manage to figure out with Deaton’s help that she is, that the woman murdered by hunters for not being human, the woman with a new-born, a degree in science and a squeaky clean criminal record, a woman who had a whole life ahead of her… When they can finally determine that this woman is the baby’s mother, well.
Stiles has never felt so good and happy and delirious and selfish about something so awful before.
“Son,” Dad says when he visits one day not long after they find the baby’s mother, worry in his eyes even as there’s pride because Oz is starting to recognize faces, can smile and blow spit bubbles and Stiles is full of that parental pride that means he has to show everyone in the whole world just how clever his baby is.
“I can’t give her away,” Stiles says when Oz is busy sucking and pulling on his fingers. “I can’t— I’m keeping her, Dad.” He doesn’t exactly think he’s surprising his dad with his declaration, but it’s the first time he’s acknowledged it out loud. “I don’t— I want her. A kid. I know I can be good for her, and… I can’t know that about anyone else.”
“If you’re sure,” Dad says. “This isn’t the sort of thing you can back away on.”
Stiles’ leg keeps jiggling. “I don’t think there’s anything I’ve been more sure about in my life.”
“Okay,” Dad says. “Okay. I’ll break some laws and regs for you.”
Stiles hugs his dad, mumbles, “Her name’s Oceana,” into Dad’s shoulder and feels his grip tighten. It’s a Greek name that sounds English. Stiles’ is an atrocity, but it’s still Greek, still honoring Mom’s heritage and a country she left behind but never forgot when she was eighteen. “I’m calling her Oz. I think I’ve been for a while now. I can’t give her up, Dad. She looks at me and she smiles and how am I supposed to live without that now?”
“I know, buddy, I know,” Dad says. He rubs a hand up and down Stiles’ back. “We’ll make this right, I’ll make sure of it.”
Stiles knows that a lot of the time when someone in a group has a kid that either everyone suddenly has kids, or, well. Or the person with the kid starts seeking out other people with kids to hang with. He’s just never known why and he thinks he should probably be glad that he doesn’t have to find that out, because Derek…
Derek doesn’t work around Oz: he works with her. Suddenly, they’re doing baby yoga, or they go to special showings at the cinema where babies are welcome, they stop working out at the gym and start working out in Stiles’ dad’s backyard, baby always in sight. If Stiles has the nightshift, Derek has the baby. Stiles isn’t surprised that it works, that it’s so easy and effortless: he’s just surprised that he never saw Derek’s need to have a pack and family again in this light before.
One day he comes home to Derek asleep on the couch, naked diaper-clad baby sleeping peacefully on his chest. Stiles doesn’t audibly coo, but he whips out his phone and starts taking pictures. It isn’t until he’s sending them to everyone he knows and a few he arguably doesn’t know as such that he realizes he’s in way, way over his head.
“Pick up, pick up, pick up, pick up pick up pick up— Hey, Lydia!”
“Stiles,” Lydia says, tone succinct and a little annoyed. “I don’t need to see what Derek looks like with a baby sleeping on top of him. I don’t have time for that.”
“She’s beautiful, isn’t she?” Stiles says at once, that gushing admiration back in his tone that he’s helpless to suppress whenever Oz is involved.
“She is,” Lydia agrees. “Why are you calling me?”
Stiles groans and slumps down on his door stoop. There’s a big urn full of planted kitchen herbs and wild strawberries next to him that he leans on and the smell of thyme and oregano is heavy in his nose. “I might not have anticipated the Derek situation?”
Lydia huffs. Stiles can practically see the eye roll accompanying it. “Stiles, you’ve been wanting into his pants since high school. How is this news?”
“I don’t—!” Stiles splutters, because that’s not true and Lydia knows that her saying something like that is emphatically not cool. “I thought he was aesthetically pleasing. Then I thought he was nice and we have the same humor and he’s wicked smart and he’s a manager at an art museum. Lydia, the guy’s practically my best friend! I’ve never wanted to have the sex with him.” Quieter, he adds, “I’ve never wanted— I thought I was— I admire people from afar and think they’re good-looking. I never want in their pants.”
“I know,” Lydia says, sighing. “Are you having a sexual identity crisis on me?”
“I’m having something! He’s sleeping with my baby girl, Lydia. I mean, I knew I depended on him just as much as he depended on me, but… Ever since Oz, I’ve started to appreciate him differently, you know? See him in a new light, all that claptrap.”
“Do you want to have sex with Derek, Stiles?”
Stiles shrugs. “I think I just realized that I’m in this ridiculously epic love saga with him. I haven’t really thought much beyond that. Hell, I haven’t had time to think beyond that.”
“What? You just walked in there, saw him with your daughter—” Cue goofy grin that’s neither here nor there— “Took pictures, had a wrecking ball moment, then called me?”
“Pretty much, yeah.”
“You are an idiot and I love you, Stiles.”
“You’re welcome. Now, I think most of the pack knows about your position on sex – Derek included – so my suggestion is that you talk to him.”
“Stiles,” Lydia counters, voice like steel. It’s much softer when she says, “Stiles, seriously. When did Derek last go on a date?”
Stiles can’t answer that because he doesn’t know. Well, he’s pretty sure that he does know, actually, but Derek doesn’t like talking about stuff like that and Stiles knows better than to ask or poke or prod. After Jennifer, Stiles doesn’t think he’s ever seen Derek express an interest in anyone. Now, in hindsight, even Derek can’t tell how much of his interest in her had been manufactured, but it’s not something they exactly talk about – not anymore, anyway.
Stiles came out to a lot of people, but he did it to Derek first, then Lydia. Scott came as number three because Stiles needed to practice saying it so he could properly explain it to his best bro in the world, and after Scott Stiles didn’t much care what people did or didn’t know – or thought they knew, for that matter.
Stiles hasn’t been on dates because he’s never been interested in anyone enough to do it. He’s never been physically attracted to people: with Lydia it was her brains, her beautiful hair and how easily she could kill you with her words.
With Derek, it’s probably everything.
“Admit it,” Stiles teased one day. “You want one, too.”
Derek looked entirely too comfortable with Oz in the crook of one arm, feeding her the contents of a bottle. “You got me,” he said, deadpan. “For all of two and a half months now, this is all I’ve ever wanted.”
Stiles felt that comfortable spot inside him grow hot and he didn’t bother suppressing his smile. “Knew it,” he said.
“He told me he’s wanted a baby since I got Oz,” Stiles tells Lydia quietly. “He’s so good with her. Cora makes fun of us because we’ve suddenly turned into a domestic duo, but I don’t care because Oz is my daughter and Derek adores her.”
“What does your dad say?”
Stiles huffs a laugh, because Dad has never said anything: he just gets that look in his eye. “He invites us over for Sunday dinners.”
“Oh, Stiles,” Lydia says.
“I’m the last to know, huh?”
“Well,” Lydia says archly, “That depends on Derek, doesn’t it?”
“You mean if he’s acting clueless or if he actually is clueless. He’s such a sadistic asshole, I swear he takes pleasure in making people think he’s stupid just so he can knock them on their asses with the power of his sheer brains alone.
“You know, I once spent six months moaning about my ancient Greek class and how I hated the grammar and he never once said that he was fucking fluent in, like, six ancient languages? He’s a sneaky bastard, Lydia. He just smirked and said it was my own fucking fault for never asking him if he could help me in the first place, I— Fuck.”
“I know, Stiles,” Lydia says, tone patient if a touch absent. “I need to get ready. Are you okay now?”
“I’m better,” Stiles concedes. “You go rock MIT for me.”
“Of course. Bye, Stiles.”
When Stiles goes back inside, Derek is sitting up, Oz cradled against his chest. He’s sleep rumpled and gorgeous and Oz isn’t as tiny now as she’d been before, when Derek could almost hold her entire body with just one massive hand, but she still looks impossibly small in Derek’s arms. The picture they paint is one Stiles can see himself coming home to every fucking day for the rest of his life, though, and that realization hits him like a punch to the gut, leaving him breathless.
“Okay?” Derek asks, because of course he heard every word with his super-hearing little werewolf ears.
“Yeah, fine,” Stiles says, shy grin firmly in place. “It’s awesome.”
Derek nods, a soft smile tugging at the corner of his lips and that’s that.
“Okay, Oz, this is serious business.”
Oz blinks up at him, her eyes wide and focused on him.
“Right,” Stiles says. “You’re totally on top of this game, of course you are, clever baby like you. Now, Derek has this idea that baby werewolves learn to recognize people by scent before sight, so we’re gonna test this theory out and see if you can sniff anything familiar. Okay? Okay, good, let’s go.”
Stiles holds one of Derek’s T-shirts under Oz’s nose. He isn’t sure if he should count the fact that Oz just continues to kick her legs, now with the addition of a black T-shirt gripped firmly in one hand that she’s happily sucking away on.
“I think I’m going with no on this one,” Stiles says. “And you know what? When I was kid, my mom shifted with me all the time. Of course, I didn’t know I could until I was five, but I knew it was real. I’m betting it was the same for Derek. What do you think, baby?” Stiles grins when Oz laughs, when he runs his fingers over her stomach and tickles at her sides. “See? Knew you’d agree with me. Such a clever baby, you are. You’ll change when you’re ready and not a second sooner, won’t you?”
Stiles takes to wearing a baby carrier or some kind of sling with an ease he didn’t think was in his vocabulary. For all that he’d thought the sudden added weight to his front would make him unbalanced and have him stumble around, it’s as if the knowledge that he’s all that’s keeping Oz from being painfully introduced to the ground somehow magically makes him more steady on his feet than he can ever remember being before.
Yes, Stiles completed the training at the police academy with flying colors, but there were notations and comments about Stiles’ tendency to flail. A little. There were also notes about his sheer awesomeness, his brains and his deduction skills, but those didn’t really require him being capable at walking, you know? Despite those skills, though, it takes Stiles an embarrassingly long time to figure out that Derek’s somehow rearranged his working hours to fit around Stiles’. Like, seriously: Stiles has to work and needs someone to watch Oz? Derek is there packing her into his car before Stiles realizes he probably should’ve had to call Derek and set things up.
Stiles is working nights? Oh, that’s no problem because Derek now spends the night just to make it easier on Oz and to change her routines as little as possible.
When they both have work? Apparently Dad doesn’t, because Derek called and, yeah, Stiles should’ve realized sooner, okay?
He should’ve realized a lot of things sooner, but he didn’t, because Stiles can be a stubborn bastard whenever he wants to be – which usually is a lot of the time.
The look on Derek’s face right now, though, indicates that he has no idea why Melissa, Chris and Dad are all in Stiles’ living room.
“I’m a granddad, I can spoil,” Dad says.
Melissa just shrugs and smiles. “Grandma by proxy. Stiles certainly caused enough of my grey hairs for me to stake a claim, anyway.”
“John promised beer and good food,” Chris says, but he isn’t fooling anyone because the look in his eyes when he glances at Oz? Pure mush. Pure, unadulterated mush.
“Stiles,” Dad says, looking up from Oz long enough to offer a smile and not-so-subtle glance in Derek’s direction. “Just take the free night we’re offering and go on a date, okay? You deserve it.”
Stiles would squawk. He would protest and deny and get flustered, but all he feels is fear. “I’ve never been away from her unless for work,” Stiles says.
“It’ll be fine,” Dad says. “Go.”
Stiles hesitates and hems and haws. He gets a couple of kisses in on chubby baby cheeks, fusses over the one-piece Oz is wearing. He would maybe feel a little ashamed, but Melissa looks indulgent and Dad doesn’t hurry him on. Derek strokes a finger down Oz’s cheek and then he reaches for Stiles’ hand and, yeah, they’re totally holding hands now, that’s a thing they do, ignore his madly beating heart.
Damn, Stiles thinks, but he had no idea holding hands with someone could literally be electrifying.
“You’ll look after her?” Stiles presses, slowly backing out of the room.
“We’ve all had kids,” Melissa says. “Some of us literally. It’ll be okay, Stiles. Go enjoy your night off.”
Stiles makes it to the end of the block before he starts to turn around.
“They’re fine,” Derek says, tugging on his hand until Stiles resumes walking, even if he can’t stop himself from looking back. But that’s okay, though, because Derek’s head is totally cocked in that “I’m totally listening in on something other than this conversation we’re having now” way.
“I know that,” Stiles says. “I’m being an irrational dad right now, Derek, let me have my moment!”
“You’re being a good dad,” Derek corrects.
“If you don’t,” Derek starts.
“If I don’t, what?” Stiles asks when Derek doesn’t add more to his statement. Derek holds tighter, runs a thumb over the back of Stiles’ hand. Stiles’ breath kind of catches in his throat at that. “Oh,” he says. “Uh.”
“I’ll be happy spending the rest of my life being your best friend,” Derek says, looking straight ahead. “If that’s what you want.”
“You heard me talking to Lydia.”
“Stiles, everyone usually loves their friends to some degree.”
“Well, yeah, but how many— Derek, you rearranged your life to fit Oz into it.”
“Why wouldn’t I? She’s your daughter.”
“My daughter,” Stiles echoes like the dope he is. “I mean, no, I don’t think a lot of people would. I think that you did – that you wanted to – is pretty damn epic and special and, like, grand.”
“We’re not questioning my feelings here,” Derek says, quiet. “I’m pretty clear on how I— I’m pretty clear with my feelings. I don’t— We never talk about yours.”
“Oh. We don’t really talk about feelings at all,” Stiles says. “But I…”
“It’s scary,” Stiles says after a while. “I had a huge crush on Lydia for years. Like, it was literally all I lived and breathed on the romantic spectrum for the longest time. Then I grew out of that and into friendship, and it never felt that different to me? Like, I still care and she still has gorgeous hair and pretty eyes, but my heart doesn’t do that extra skip anymore, you know?”
Derek nods, Stiles mirrors it, then goes on. “Look, I don’t know why I fixated on Lydia, but I think it was because she was smart and kicked ass at math in kindergarten or something – I honestly don’t remember anymore. It was just one of those things that always was. But after I evolved in the feelings department? I never— No one ever made me want to, to be all those things Lydia made me want to be.”
“Be?” Derek asks, frowning. “Usually, it’s do.”
“Yeah, well, not all there with the sex department, am I? Anyway, with Lydia I wanted to be someone good for her. I wanted to be a husband and a family. I wanted to be her rock and I wanted to be her best friend. I wanted to be the best person I could possibly be for her: I wanted to be me and I wanted her to be herself and I wanted—”
“I wanted us to be. I think that’s all I ever wanted. Like, a lot of the time I’m okay being on my own so long as I have friends and stuff. I mean, I have Dad, you guys – the pack. Oz. I have Oz.”
“You do have us,” Derek says, lips twitching. Stiles may or may not groan as he starts to laugh, because that pun? Was terrible. “You done?”
“Evading and running my mouth? Do you even know me, Hale?”
Derek sighs. It’s put upon and fond. It makes Stiles warm all the way down to his toes and suddenly he can’t even fathom why it took him so long to get to the point where he could realize and acknowledge that Derek is so much more – that he means so much more to Stiles than the rest of his friends in such a hugely profound way.
“I ask myself why every day,” Derek says. “Pizza, steak or burgers?”
“Nope. Pick one. If you’re good, I’m adding dessert.”
“And what if I want those fancy breadsticks, huh? What if I want flowers and romance and appetizers and, and wooing—”
It takes Stiles too long – he’s a cop, dammit, he’s trained and paid to be observant and notice the surroundings and to never let his guard down; he’s gonna take up the Sheriff reins after his dad – to realize that Derek’s been leading them to Beacon Hill’s only Greek restaurant. They don’t serve burgers, pizza or steak, but the food they do have on menu? It’s orgasmic, okay. Orgasmic.
They have a pretty laidback and indecently comfortable furniture, sometimes there’s someone tinkling away at the piano by the bar and they serve some pretty A-plus breadsticks – it’s the garlic, no doubt.
“We’re on a date,” Stiles states, a little panicked and a lot of something that feels remarkably like shock except it’s not shock.
“Don’t you ever listen to your dad?”
“We’re on a date,” Stiles says again. “Oh my god, I’m on a date.”
“I’m twenty-four and I’m on my first date! Derek, don’t you realize how scary this is? This is life-changing, this is epic, this is like Bruce Wayne hooking up with Tony Stark, this is—”
“You and me, eating out?” Derek says, eyebrow raised. “The way you’re acting, it’s like we’ve never done that before.”
“Don’t smirk at me, bastard.”
“I’m not.” Derek nods at the taverna. “This okay?”
“We’re going to stink of garlic, man. It’s gonna be awesome.”
“It’s scary,” Stiles says again, later. “I mean, I knew I could be romantically attracted to people, but after Lydia… I thought it would happen again, that I could fall in and out of love like that all the time, but then it’d suddenly been years and I’d never connected with anyone on an emotional level like that again. I dealt with that,” he says. “But this? This is super scary. It totally crept up on me and it’s different to everything I felt last time and, yeah.” Stiles sighs, doesn’t bother suppressing the smile he can feel growing on his face.
“What changed?” Derek asks.
“I don’t know. I think maybe Oz was the kick in the ass I needed to stand still for a second and see what’s right in front of me. I think maybe I stared myself blind at you, figuratively speaking.”
They manage three hours, which is just enough time to eat their food, breadsticks and dessert and all, before powerwalking home. And, yes, Dad is totally laughing at them, the traitorous bastard. Even Melissa looks like she’s smirking.
“You’ll get there,” Chris says. “It took me six months before I could let Allison out of my sight for longer than an hour.”
The last thing Stiles really expects during a routine day spent catching speeders is a gun to the head. Okay, so it doesn’t happen quite like that. It was just, Stiles pulled over a speeder, right? Right, so he pulls the car over, does everything he’s supposed to do.
The driver of the other car, though? Well, to say that they aren’t responding the way people who’ve been caught speeding usually do is a slight oversight of the truth.
The person in the car smiles and shrugs, but does absolutely nothing to disguise the fact that she has a shotgun aimed and armed. Stiles thinks she’d probably take his head off, going by the angle it’s pointing at.
“I just have a question for you,” she says.
“If you put the gun away, I won’t add assault charges.”
“Cute. Where’s the baby?” She asks and of course she’s a hunter.
“None of your business.”
“It is if you’re keeping my daughter from me.”
Stiles rolls his eyes. “Pretty sure she’s not yours, what with the conclusive DNA tests and all. But, hey, I could be wrong.” The hair at the back of his neck is standing up and he just knows someone is sneaking up behind him, but Stiles never gets the chance to turn around before a blow to the back of his head knocks him out.
His patrol car is still running, driver’s door open and lights flashing. Dad’ll know what it means. Stiles takes comfort in that, even as the world starts spinning and goes dark. His head is throbbing, but he’s out cold before he hits the ground.
Stiles wakes up tied to a pipe in a dingy basement next to an old wooden boat. His head is pounding and he has to blink several times before he can actually see straight.
There have been times, frequent and fervent, over the past years that Stiles wished harpies had the same kind of healing power as werewolves (spoiler alert: they don’t). Stiles has figured out the long-range vision thing Mom started teaching him back in the day when they went “hunting” for fish, he knows what powers the feathers in his hair can hold. He knows that his talons are deadly sharp, that he grow wings and make his skin go hard and armor-like and that it’s all needed to make sure he stays safe in flight. Hardened, protected skin means he won’t grow cold in mid-flight, it means he won’t scrape himself raw when he tries to land.
It means that he’s harder to injure while partially shifted, because it’s like he’s covered in bullet proof armor. Not that he’s tested or anything, but both him and Derek prodded at skin that used to be soft and vulnerable with claws and talons. Stiles sort of wishes that he’d dared to try and see how hard he’d have to press to consciously break his skin. He thinks that sort of information would be good to have right now.
The pipe he’s tied to is brown and burnished metal, cool to the touch. It also makes him itch, makes him want to run as far away from it as he can, and he settles for jiggling his leg.
Stiles is regretting hard time not pumping Deaton for all the information he has on harpies, for not asking more questions to Chris. He wishes his mom had told him more, that she was still alive and there when Stiles needs help.
“Give us the baby,” his captors say.
It’s always a new face, but the question and the threat of torture is the same.
“Why?” Stiles asks. “What do you want with a baby – are you guys some sort of underground kidnapping ring?”
One of them answers, one of the first hunters. “Don’t be cute,” he says. “We know you run with wolves.”
“You also know I run with the law, right?”
The guy grins over his shoulder as he heads to the door, but he doesn’t say anything more.
Stiles is pretty sure it takes roughly about ten hours before someone actually hits him. Stiles would call that some kind of record, except he’s totally pissed off angry people with weapons in way shorter time before.
Five hours after that, Stiles ends up face to face with the leader of this little enclave of hunters. There’s a blade held against his throat, the metal cold and prickly, his hands are tied behind his back and the grip the hunter holding him still uses is too tight and too hard.
“Deputy Stiles Stilinski.” The leader is sitting in front of a desk, has Stiles’ gun, wallet and badge – everything he had on him – spread out in front of him. “Stilinski,” Leader says again. “How common is that name, do you think?”
“Guess that depends on what corner of the world you’re living in. Like, my grandma always said that there was a whole town of Stilinskis running around back in rural Poland so, you know, there could be a lot of us.”
Leader shakes his head at that, makes some kind of tutting noise that has whoever it is holding Stiles up kneeing him hard in the back of his thigh. If not for the fact that someone was basically already holding Stiles up, he’d have fallen to the floor like a sack of potatoes.
“Hunters track families.” Leader picks up Stiles’ ID again. “We learn everything about the monsters we hunt down: names, habits, lineages. We have whole family trees sketched out in our bestiary. Sometimes one or two freaks will slip under our radar, but we always find them.” The pause is very much villainy, pure acting and just meant to scare. Stiles isn’t really buying it anymore, not after years dealing with hunters and werewolves. That doesn’t mean he’s not scared, though, that’s he’s not on the tip of his toes, because Chris warned him. “Your middle name is very interesting, Stiles. Greek, isn’t it? Has a nice ring to it.”
“What can I say? My dad really loves Greek mythology,” Stiles says, heart pounding rabbit fast under his chest bone. “Wouldn’t shut up about it when I was a kid, kept narrating stories—” The fist comes literally out of nowhere and it hurts like motherfucking hell!
“Don’t insult my intelligence, boy. We lost Claudia Demopoulos half a century ago. You know why? Because her father, Seiorse, led a wild chase all across Europe, raiding museums and libraries for every little mention of his lost and failing race. We realized our mistake, of course, but Claudia was already gone.” Leader smirks. “And then she got married, changed her name. Spawned. At least she had the decency to bite the dust, save us the work. What was it, bird flu?”
Stiles gets as far as disarming the hunter holding the knife to his throat before someone punches him in the gut, knees him in the back and sends him down on the ground. The knee follows, digs into his spine between his shoulders. It’s hard to breathe, because his air is cut off and his lungs aren’t allowed to expand—
Leader presses a knife to the thin skin under Stiles’ left eye. “We have ways of testing you, boy. See if what the rest of your ancestors had infected you or not. For example, copper burns, made that bitch who spawned that baby you’re protecting screech something awful. God, but her kind can cry. We just need you to tell us where the baby is first, then we’ll maybe let you go.”
“Why? She got away, too? Fuck, you guys are incompetent, aren’t you? I’ve met some stupid people over the years, but none of them got outwitted by a baby.”
So yeah, Stiles wakes up tied to the same pipe as before, right next to the dilapidated dinghy and everything. Either it’s a test to see if Stiles can get away – he so totally can: he’s been escaping bonds for years and he’s a trained cop now. Dad sends him on special training retreats and everything. Also? He and Derek once spent a summer figuring out the limitations of a human body. Derek needed to know the difference and Stiles needed to know that he could. It totally helps with the not panicking and not feeling like crap, okay?
Conclusion: Stiles can break away.
But now he knows, okay? Now he knows that someone’s taken the baby – his baby, his beautiful, perfect little daughter – and gone to ground. He knows that these people, these hunters, probably tried to take her once before, because there’s still a guy in custody for it back home. They obviously know werewolves are a thing even if they know absolutely nothing about them.
Also? These hunters are of the kind who thinks that humans are basically stupid and won’t be a threat, so let’s just tie them up with ordinary rope in a room full of potential weapons and leave them alone.
Stiles knows all this, but he’s also human – well, human-ish, whatever. His heart is beating over-time, his breathing is too fast and those sick bastards talked about his mom. He hasn’t had a panic-attack since he became a cop, but right now it feels like there’s one just waiting to catch him the second Stiles lets down his guard.
He’s also betting on the fact that the uncomfortable feeling he’s been getting from the pipe he’s been tied to is probably a thing. A supernatural thing.
Goddammit, but everything was way easier when Stiles had himself almost firmly convinced he was human and that Mom— That Mom had just indulged her hyperactive kid with tales about flying superheroes.
Stiles takes a deep breath. “Here goes,” he whispers.
There are two hunters stationed right outside the door and Stiles hits them both over the head with a short pipe. Their pockets don’t reveal anything but gums and screen-locked phones, but they are both armed and Stiles makes short work of disabling the guns and tying the hunters up with their shoelaces. He has no idea how big this place is or how many hunters there are lurking inside. He’s scared, terrified and panicked because even years of experience and a badge to his name haven’t numbed him from that.
Feelings like that keep him on his toes, makes him hyper vigilant and cautious as fuck.
There are two ways out, but there are endless of variables and possibilities. What it comes down to is this, though: either he hits everyone he comes across over the head and makes a run for it, or he calls in the cavalry and puts as many of these bastards behind bars as possible. They’re all hunters: hunters have records, leave traces and evidence and death and destruction in their wake. Stiles isn’t sure if they’re American or not, if they’re in the country legally or if hunters have connections that reach worldwide.
The fifth phone he finds isn’t screen-locked. The GPS is easy to turn on and Stiles has his dad’s number entered and called in a matter of seconds.
“Who is this?” Dad demands, brisk “I’m the Sheriff” tone worn thin and stressed.
“Hey, Dad,” Stiles says. The room he’s hiding in his tiny and dusty, and he hopes that means no one’s using it.
“Stiles, where are you, son?”
“I don’t know,” Stiles says. “Hunters. I’m pulling a John McClane, but I have no idea where I am or how many people there are.”
“We found your car,” Dad is saying. Stiles can hear people around him, bustling around and tapping on computers. “I had Derek track your scent until it vanished. Chris has been pulling up contacts left and right, but nothing checked out.”
“I don’t think these guys are local. Dad—”
“They knew Mom’s name. Her maiden name, her dad’s name – I think they’re specialist hunters.”
Dad’s quiet. “Chris warned me they might be. Son—”
“They don’t know. They said they had tests, ways to check if I’m—” Stiles shakes his head, changes the topic. “They want my daughter. That’s why they’re here. They followed her mother, killed her. I’m guessing these guys aren’t as friendly as our local werewolf hunters.”
“We have a lock on your phone,” Dad says. “Do you have a way out?”
Stiles glances at the window, at the trees outside and the rain running down the glass. There are bars over it, thick iron bars. He’s betting even Derek would’ve had a hard time breaking through those.
“I’m pretty high up,” Stiles says. “The basement connected to a staircase leading up the top floor and nothing else from the looks of things. Look, either I hole up where I am and hope for the best, fight my way out, or try to get out on the roof and, you know.”
“I’m not liking those options, buddy.”
“I’m not liking anything about this situation, Dad! Being kidnapped sucks.”
“Tell me about it,” Dad says, tone stone cold dry. “Now, I’m gonna keep you on the line. I want you to put me on speaker and the second something changes on your end, you let me know.”
The whole plan goes well until it all goes to shit. See, Stiles hit people over the head and dragged them to places where they wouldn’t be immediately stumbled over, right? Right, well, people don’t stay knocked out forever and sooner or later people who just sort of vanish for an hour or two are missed, so, yeah.
The shouting kind of alerts Stiles that not all is well.
“Cover’s blown,” Stiles says.
“For the love of— Don’t do anything stupid, Stiles.”
“Do you even know me, Dad?”
“Unfortunately,” Dad grumbles.
“Look, there’s an attic hatch in the room. I’ll see if I can’t get out that way. What’s your ETA?”
“Fifteen,” Dad says. “Stay safe.”
Pulling down the ladder to the attic is nerve-wracking because it’s loud. It creaks and groans and squeals and protests, and Stiles is wincing, okay, he’s wincing like a fucking pro and, seriously, how hard is it to keep your doors and hinges oiled and primed anyway? Try as he might, he can’t hear any footsteps or anything from outside the room, so up the ladder he goes.
The attic is dimly lit, the only light available coming in from two tiny windows in the low, sloping roof. It’s cluttered and dirty, full of boxes and detritus. Stiles glances back down, then pulls the ladder up as carefully as he’d lowered it.
“Where’s Derek?” Dad’s suspiciously quiet at that. “Dad?”
“As the Sheriff, I can’t condone vigilantes.”
Stiles huffs. “Dad, you’re so fucking transparent sometimes.”
“Watch your tongue.”
“And your sass.”
“That’s a tall list,” Stiles complains.
The windows are small, too tiny for him to fit his frame through. He considers them anyway, then looks down at his hands until they’re talons, slightly curled and wicked sharp, and then it’s just a matter of removing the window from the roof. It’s weird, watching the way something that’s attached to his own body is just able to cut through wood like butter. The skin on his hands and fingers is too hard for splinters to break through the way they should – the way he would’ve been riddled with them in human shape.
“Did Mom have super-strength?”
“She was the strongest person I know,” Dad says.
Stiles smiles because, yeah, his mom had been pretty epic.
“I never saw her lift any cars or punch through walls, though,” Dad adds. “Son?”
“Yeah, that’s— I’m still basically human,” Stiles says. “I have armor, not speedy healing.”
“You’re part of a different mythology. Claudia— She didn’t talk about it much, not to me.”
“She showed me, showed both of us, but she didn’t like to talk about her past.”
“I know,” Stiles says, setting the window frame on the floor. The hole is still way too small, but it’s easy to expand, to make it big enough to fit himself through it. “I think my talons are way sharper than werewolf claws.”
“What are you doing?”
“I’m, like, legitimately cutting through wood. It’s awesome.” Stiles pokes his head through the hole, mostly to get a look at where he is and what material the roof is made of on the other side.
“Your Mom cut the lids off of tin cans.”
Stiles grins, suddenly remembering lazy Saturday mornings with his family, watching Mom neatly slice into tins of peaches or pears. “Yeah, this roof doesn’t stand a chance.”
With the wood panels out of the way on the inside, there’s just the metal covering on the outside left and Stiles can just curl his fingers. The talons cut clean through, like scissors through paper, easy as anything, and then he just needs to make a decently sized hole that he can fit through.
“Five minutes,” Dad says.
In the woods surrounding the house a flashlight blinks, five short and three long. “I think the vigilante cavalierly just turned up.”
“Still the Sheriff.”
The sound of a door slamming open below him has Stiles scrambling out before the hole’s technically wide enough. The bent metal catches on his clothes, snags on buttons and too broad shoulders, but then he’s out and, whoa. “Shit.”
“I’m way up,” Stiles says. “Like, if I jump I break my legs and if I stay the hunters will bash my head open with copper pipes.”
“So fly,” Dad says.
“Your mom said it was like riding a bicycle.”
“I suck at riding bikes,” Stiles grumbles.
“So did Claudia. Be safe, son.”
There’s muffled thumping from the attic, sounds that likely mean the hunters who kidnapped him aren’t far off. He hasn’t heard the ladder being pulled down yet, but it’s probably just a matter of time. Stiles stuffs the phone in his back pocket, then shrugs out of his uniform shirt.
Changing, shifting, is weird. It puts pressure on his back, makes his chest heavy even as he feels impossibly light – like a bird, he supposes, and maybe this means his bones are hollow. He starts beating his wings before he jumps, but not before there’s a crash from inside the attic and loud swearing and shouting.
Once, Derek talked Stiles into gliding from the top of the old Hale house to the ground. That had been strange and scary and so normal that it was just even freakier. Now? Flexing his wings is like swimming, like remembering how to float and do backstrokes after not having been in water for years. Stiles is pretty much on a collision course with a tree, but he doesn’t give a fuck because the tree is closer to friendlies than foes.
Foes that are currently shooting at him.
Okay, so Stiles curses and maybe loses focus on what he’s doing for a while. He slams into a tree and catches himself on a branch that he, well. Talons are sharp, okay? It’s not his fault that he cuts clean through it and falls down a little before he can catch himself properly on the trunk.
The other side of the house is flashing with police sirens, blue and red and familiar and safe. There are hunters spilling out the back, but the police is there quickly enough that very few get away. And those that do? Stiles grins. He reckons neither Chris nor Derek will let them get that far, if the growling and the shooting is any indication at all.
Stiles stays in the trees, glides between them as he follows the sounds. It doesn’t take him long to find the clearing. There are a couple of bodies on the ground, but there are three standing and, no, that’s not gonna fly – heh, pun so intended.
Leader is there – big fucking surprise – and Derek is on his knees in front of him, gun at his head. Chris is aiming a gun right back at Leader’s face, but if he isn’t shooting, then… Chris is many things, Stiles knows, but he doesn’t like wasting innocent lives in vain. If he’s not shooting, then the bullets in Leader’s gun aren’t just regular bullets.
Stiles’ wings rustles a little, but then he’s in the air and dropping fast. He has a branch in his hands that he slams down over Leader’s head just before his feet touch the ground.
“Stiles?” Chris exclaims.
Stiles grins. “Hey, man. Am I awesome or what?”
“I could have shot you,” Chris says, rolling his eyes and shaking his head. “Do you know who the hunters here are?”
Stiles shakes his head. “Specialist hunters, possibly not American because this guy here made it sound like he spent a lot of time in Greece and the rest of Europe playing exterminator.”
Chris grimaces. “I hate people like him. Gives the rest of us a bad reputation.”
“Because hunters are so honorable,” Derek mutters. “I can’t fucking see.”
“There is a need for hunters,” Chris says. “What there is not is a need for are people like him.”
“They were here for my daughter. I think my background was just icing or something,” Stiles says.
Derek flinches back a little at that, even as Chris blanches. “They were going to kill Oz?”
Stiles clenches his fingers, talons curling and bones creaking. “They said they had tests. That they would do them on me once I gave them my daughter.”
“Those tests aren’t often ones you walk away from,” Chris says. “Especially not someone so young as your daughter. Stiles, can you change back?”
Stiles shrugs. “In theory, yeah. I haven’t really done this a lot. Well, the talons and the eyes, yeah, but the skin and the wings and the whole shift? Not so much, no, because there just wasn’t time and—”
“This clearing will be swarming with police in a couple of minutes. It would be best if you looked more human and less like a creature from Greek mythology.” Chris raises an eyebrow. “Ideally, I shouldn’t even be here. Or Derek.”
Derek makes a protesting sound, but Stiles is with Chris on this one: the less they are in the eyes of the law, the better. Stiles puts away his talons, does a passable job on his skin. “Derek,” he says, curling his human fingers over Derek’s shoulder, his neck. “You should go.”
“I can’t see.”
Stiles smiles. “I’m okay, big guy. Totally fine.”
“I can smell you’re hurt.”
“I talk back,” Stiles says. Derek snorts. “It’ll be fine. You just get out of here. I’ll cover you. You can even wait for me at home and I swear, man, if you’re not there with my baby, then I’ll do something painful and ugly to you, okay? I’ll file your teeth and break your claws or something.”
“I’ll be there,” Derek says, and it’s so easy for Stiles to slide his arms around Derek’s neck and hug him tight.
“Good,” Stiles breathes. “I’ll see you there.”
Chris wipes his gun of meticulously before handing it to Stiles. “It’s unregistered. Say you liberated it from one of them.”
Stiles nods, because he isn’t stupid and this is far from the first time they’ve done something like this. There’s a small pile of weapons left behind inside the house, in a room with access to the attic. He’ll just say he kept one of the guns.
By the time the first deputy makes it to the clearing, Stiles is alone, sitting on the ground, slumped against a tree and he’s fully human.
When Stiles comes home, Derek is pacing back and forth between the kitchen and the living room, Oz screaming her lungs out in his arms. Stiles stops, just inside the door and looks at them. He breaks into a grin when Derek glares at him over his shoulder, but then Stiles is there, taking Oz from Derek’s more than capable hands and talking softly to her.
This, right here, juggling his baby and smelling her baby scent and feeling the delicate weight of her in his arms – it’s all he’s ever wanted.
“Hey, hi, baby,” Stiles says, rocking her as she cries. “I missed you so much, you have no idea.”
“Your eardrums miss her, too?” Derek asks.
Stiles snorts. “Maybe not my eardrums,” he acknowledges. “The rest of me did, though.”
Derek nods, looks down at Oz, at her red face and the frustrated tears wetting it. “The rest of us missed you, too,” he says and he smirks when Stiles squawks in protest.
“What?” Derek looks entirely too innocent. “You’re loud and talk a lot.”
Stiles just rolls his eyes, but it doesn’t take long before Derek wraps them both in a hug and just holds on. Oz is still crying, little hiccoughing noises that slowly die out. “Derek?”
“I did miss you,” Derek says, nosing against Stiles’ ear. “When Oz woke up in the middle of the night or when she needed a new diaper—”
“You ass!” Stiles protests, but they’re both grinning and Stiles knows everything is all right. He thinks it'll pretty much always be all right.