The baby has clear amber eyes and a scattering of little birthmarks across her milk-pale skin. Holding her in the crook of an elbow, Derek touches his thumb carefully to the curve of her cheek, the dark brush of her lashes. Then he lifts her warm weight against his chest, leaving her face nestled into the side of his throat, and goes to give her back to Erica.
He can't find anyone but Stiles, out back near the lightning tree in a sweat-soaked shirt and leather gardening gloves, battling back the new growth that steals into the yard from the forest every spring.
"She's hungry," Derek says. Stiles straightens, turns around with a smile while wiping his wrist across his forehead, and accepts the fox Derek is offering into his arms. She twists and scrabbles at his chest with her small feet; Stiles laughs, bends to set her down.
"No, don't," Derek tries to say, but he can't form the words right, misshapen and soundless, trapped in his mouth, and then it's too late. She's darting into the underbrush, and Derek already knows the end of this movie, he's seen it: her little bright body limp in the trap, the snow around it red-stained and kicked up into furrows from her struggles.
"What's wrong?" Stiles is saying, brow wrinkled with concern, and Derek wakes up gasping. He thrashes free of the bedclothes, eyes burning, and sits up.
Stiles stirs and turns his face toward Derek to murmur something vaguely questioning, eyes closed. He's sacked out on his belly, the way he ends up most nights, big hands tucked up near his neck, biceps muscle emerging plumply from the sleeve of one of Derek's t-shirts. His own clothing is in two duffel bags and a backpack on top of the dryer downstairs, reeking of pot smoke and multiple wearings. Derek suspects him of having saved up an entire semester's worth of laundry. If he actually washes all of that shit before he takes off to spend the rest of the week with his dad, Derek will eat every single pair of the Diesel boxer-briefs inside and deprive himself of the way Stiles's ass looks in them when he wears them around the house during his visits, leaving his long, bare legs to stretch out across the couch, wrap around the rungs of Derek's breakfast stools.
Still mostly unconscious, Stiles is pale in the dark, a soft, sex-smelling, rumpled foil to the tall sunburned boy in the dream, so Derek just says, "Water," and swings his legs over the edge of the bed.
"G'me too," Stiles mumbles.
As he drifts naked down the stairs and into the kitchen, Derek tries to remember movies with foxes, movies about foxes, but he can't think of any. Standing barefoot on the tile in the odd, alien light of the small bulb over the stove, he fills and drains a tall Las Vegas souvenir glass with a chip in the edge, then refills it halfway and carries it back up the stairs to the bedroom.
Already asleep again, Stiles lets out a confused, protesting whimper when Derek nudges him, but now that Derek is awake enough to think about it, they're probably both dehydrated. His own lips were rough when he licked them while rummaging in the cabinet, and sweat had been pouring off of Stiles last night, slicking the hollow of his back and his blood-flushed face, clinging like jewels to the tips of the wiry hairs beneath his arms until it shook loose and pattered down over Derek's chest in hot drops.
A slap on the ass brings Stiles just awake enough to hold the glass upright with both hands and sort of curl around it, tipping it awkwardly toward his mouth without lifting his head. He spills on the bedsheets as he swallows. When he's finished, he slumps again, hands going lax.
Looking down at the softness of Stiles's half-open mouth, the wet shine on his lips, Derek recalls the way Stiles laughed last night, said, "You didn't have to say it." He was collapsed heavily on Derek's chest after they'd finished, one tanned shoulder snug against Derek's chin, long limbs splayed out across the bed as sweat cooled on their bodies. The skin between his shoulder blades was clammy beneath Derek's palm, and, even as he stared unseeingly at the shadows on the ceiling, lungs locked down tight on an unnameable emotion, Derek thought to wonder whether Stiles was getting chilly. It was too early in the summer for stifling nights, and the south-facing windows that Scott had helped Isaac install were open to the cool breeze that came down from the mountains after nightfall.
While Derek drifted, Stiles had recovered enough for an idle monologue. His roommate's wetsuit had left some kind of orange slime mold in their shower that neither of them wanted to disturb. He'd finally gotten his score back on the quiz he'd taken while riding out the tail end of two grams of mushrooms -- 97 percent. It sucked to have Scott out of state until mid-July. Erica's class schedule was balls crazy. Stiles's balls itched like crazy.
After a slacker first semester, largely spent getting laid, taking Stiles clubbing, and composing lengthy, near-anarchistic essays and poems to send to Derek disparaging his obsession with higher education, a professor had implied Erica was the kind of student who would end up dropping out, whatever the fuck that meant. Derek still wanted to do some damage if he thought too long on Erica's wide, sharp-cornered smile, the blank hardness in her eyes as she shaped her mouth around the phrase. Two years later, hellbent on having her B.A. early, she'd elected to remain in LA for the summer instead of coming home to Beacon Hills with Stiles. She was already prepping for the J.D. program; Derek had snooped into one of her books when she was home for the holidays, feeling dizzy with pride in her when he was met with a wall of completely incomprehensible language.
"We thought it might be mine," Stiles was saying. "The math worked out."
Derek grunted, unsurprised. When she'd called in April to ask him whether being a werewolf could fuck with a pregnancy test, he'd dropped a bowl and had to tuck the phone against his shoulder as he crouched down, carefully laying all of the larger pieces he could reach inside one another while he said calmly, I don't know, I'll have to ask someone; Laura and I never-- and you think you might-- and then he hadn't heard from either one of them for a solid two weeks, until a text from Stiles: E on the reds, phew.
"You know what's weird? We weren't even that worried. She said if it happens for real, her plan is to keep it and dump it off at home with you so you can be disgusting about it."
Derek's breath caught, held, a drowning pain in his chest.
Oblivious, Stiles shifted and stretched lazily, stubble rasping on Derek's skin. "She said she'd have one of yours, too, after she's got her LL.M."
Derek's breath shook loose on a rough-voiced, "When the hell did I ever say I'd want that," and that was when Stiles laughed, said you didn't--
Derek takes the tipped over glass out of the loose circle of Stiles's slumbering grip and sets it on the bedside table, pushes his legs beneath the twisted top sheet. He feels cocooned in the cloud-grey hush of Stiles's breaths, the hiccuping tumult of young frogs sliding into the room through the open window, punctuated by occasional clear notes from the windchime. Erica strung a silver ladle onto it last year, after the clapper was blown off by a thunderstorm. He reminds himself to finish building the sun-room soon, in case the rains come early again. Isaac should have somewhere quiet to study that isn't his own room with the door closed.
Exhaling past the slowly easing tightness in his breastbone, he tucks one hand beneath his pillow the way he likes, leaving the other palm-down beside Stiles's. Easy to find one another, if someone wakes in the night.