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'Til the Smoke is Gone

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Plink.

Plink.

Plink.

The thing had been broken for 5 days now and the landlord couldn’t have been bothered to fix it. It didn’t help that the landlord in question had been gone since last Tuesday on vacation as his wife had said before. At least that’s what she said. Anyone that was still around knew exactly why the two had packed up and left. It was for the same reason that the family in room 513 left, the same reason the married couple in 507 left, the same reason those college buddies in 521 left as well as the grump from 518. Others had been here before Derek knew that for sure, but at this point the only people on this floor or even the entire building was him, his baby brother and the old lady from room 520 who smelled like chocolate and found the time to give them cookies every Saturday. It seemed like she would leave soon as well.

“Bah!”

Evan came across the floor to his older brother scooting around on his diapered butt with his gummy smile.

“Hey squirt.”

“Buh!”

He waved up his arms and babbled more. Derek crouched down to grab him only to be smacked in the face with a soggy monkey. Derek wiped his face and found how sticky
it was.

“Have you been chewing on Barney again?”

“Bah buh Derk”

“That’s me squirt, Derek. So did you chew on him or throw him into my art set again?”

“Dah”

“That means yes in Russian squirt.”

“Abuh!”

“I’ll take that to mean my art set.”

12 soft chimes rang out from the clock.

“Damn. I’ll have to check on it later. We need to go grab some groceries. You ready?”

“Derk”

“What up squirt?”

“Bah.”

Evan flings his monkey towards his jacket which is lying on the couch. Derek picks up Evan and moves towards the couch to pick up the monkey and jacket.

“Really now? I put your jacket on earlier and you managed to take it off?”

Evan smiles.

“You’re lucky you’re a cute baby. Now come on we gotta get your jacket on”

“Ah?”

“Of course. You have no idea what a jacket is. You’re only a year old. What do you know about anything?”

Evan makes several gurgling sounds before slobbering all over his monkey.

“Let’s just get your jacket”

It takes several minutes but after finally taking the monkey Evan finally has his jacket on.

“Buh.”

“You’re telling me.”

Derek straps Evan onto his back and together they go out into the empty streets. Evan yawns and snuggles into Derek’s hoodie.

“And nobody is here as per usual. What do you think?”

No response. Evan is fast asleep into Derek’s hoodie. Derek sighs and mutters the grocery list under his breath as he approaches the grocery store. The sign is missing several
letters with only the V and S remaining. Derek stands outside and waits for the old doors to wind open.

“Oh you’re still around?”

“Don’t be so surprised. I haven’t saved nearly enough to be able to get out of here.”

“Eh. It’s not worth it anyways. I heard it’s not so hot up there.”

Derek snorts derisively.

“Tell me about it. It’s all I see when I turn on the news.”

“To be fair that’s the only channel you have when you turn on the TV.”

“Shut the hell up.” Derek replies with no heat behind his words.

The lone clerk shrugs his shoulders.

“How’s Evan?”

“Still a year old last time I checked.”

“Don’t be coy.”

“Wow an SAT word. What a genius.”

“But seriously though. How is he?”

“He’s sleeping.”

“Aww. Lemme see him anyways.”

“Stiles, come on. He’s sleeping.”

“You suck.”

“What can I say? The cold makes him tired.”

“Is he doing that thing where he hides under your hoodie?”

“Yep.”

Evan stirs a little and pulls himself out of Derek’s hoodie.

“And he’s awake!.”

“No thanks to you.”

“Lemme at him anyways.”

Derek swings Evan around, unstraps him from his pouch and turns to let Stiles hold onto him.

“What a cutie. You’re a cutie you know that?”

Evan smiles sleepily and gums his monkey.

“And look at that strong jaw, chewing on the monkey.”

“Please shut up. Your baby talk is annoying.”

Stiles and Evan both turn to stare at Derek, the former with annoyance, the latter with sleepy eyes.

“I am having quality time with an adorable baby. You hush.”

“Bah buh.”

“Exactly little man. I’m glad you get me.”

“He’s the only one that gets you.”

“You’re just jealous that he likes me better.”

“Of course he’d like you. Everyone likes people within their generation.”

“Did you just---”

“Yep.”

“Rude.”

“Not as much as you are.”

“Please. I am a glowing beacon of light in the darkness that is your life.”

“Poetic. Now can I get my baby brother back please so I can grab what I need and be on my merry way?”

“Let me go with you.”

“Don’t you have a job to do despite the lack of people that exist right now?”

“Dude I’m only in here to make whoever is still around think that there are still people that work.”

“That actually makes sense on some weird level.”

“Bite me.”

“Gross.”

“Just grab your stuff and let me crash at your place.”

“Don’t you have a place of your own?”

“Nah. It got raided.”

“There are so many other places though.”

“Strength in numbers.”

“I am a 20-year old male with a half-brother who is aged at 1 and a half years old.”

“I’ll take those odds.”

“There’s literally no stopping you is there?”

“Nope.” Stiles says popping the “p”.

“Fine. Help me with my groceries at least.”

Stiles gets up from his spot with Evan to grab the necessary foods.

“How does this place still get stocked? Isn’t everyone pretty much gone by now?”

“I dunno.”

“You pretended to work here. Can you at least pretend that you know the answer?”

“Eh, sure.”

“Cool. Explain.”

The two chatter while grabbing foods with Evan putting in his own opinions between each sentence, usually punctuated with a slap to Derek’s face with his still-wet monkey. The
two quickly finish their grabbing spree and make for Derek’s apartment.

“Nice place.”

“Thanks. I got it for free from the landlord.”

“Free?!”

“Nah. I just snuck in from the fire escape. ‘Sides the landlord didn’t even notice since he left like a week later.”

“Lucky break huh?”

“Pretty lucky.”

“Where’d you get the key?”

“Found it under the floor mat.”

“Damn. Really lucky then.”

“Tell me about it.”

The two sit in companionable silence as they watch the sun set. The clock then chimes 3 times and Derek gets up and moves towards the kitchen. Stiles is asleep on the couch
with Evan sleeping on top of his chest.

Derek mutters under his breath, “Christ they’re like two peas in a pod.”

He bustles about and grabs some of the cheese. The loud clattering wakes up Evan who, realizing Derek is not around, immediately starts to sniffle. Evan’s sniffling wakes up
Stiles who startles at having Evan lying on top of him.

“Whoa there kiddo. Why’re you about to cry?”

“Derk. Deeerr…” Evan makes grabby hands towards the clattering noises.

“You want Derek?”

Evan nods his head and sniffles more.

“‘Ey Derek!”

Derek raises his head at the shout and nearly drops the pot of water he was holding, He quickly answers back.

“Whaddya want?”

“Not me, Evan!”

Derek swears under his breath and puts down the pot of water, quickly striding towards the TV area. Evan upon seeing him wiggles his body and makes more hand motions. Derek
quickly picks up Evan and soothes his impending tantrum.

“Hey there squirt. Sorry I wasn’t there when you woke up. I know I’m always right there whenever you take a nap and I’m sorry I wasn’t around this time. It’s okay squirt I was just
making some dinner. Mac’n’cheese your favorite yeah?”

Evan nods his head and rests it against Derek’s collarbone. He quickly calms down and begins to gum on Derek’s shirt.

Derek complains without any heat. “Come on, squirt. It’s the only clean one I have.”

Stiles gets up and moves towards the kitchen.

“I’ll start making the Mac’n’cheese kay?”

“Yeah sure.”

“Cool.”

He leaves towards the kitchen and Derek sits down to let Evan look up at him face-to-face.

“I know you don’t see Stiles everyday but you’re going to have to get used to him okay squirt? He doesn’t have a safe place to be at right now so he’s going to stay with us until he
thinks he’s okay. Personally between me and you I hope he stays. He can help me out when I can’t handle everything yeah?”

“Buh.”

“Attaboy. Don’t worry squirt I’m still your big brother yeah?”

“Bah.”

“So you really don’t mind if I stay forever.”

Derek jumps and swears loudly.

“Hey watch your language in front of the baby.”

“He’s not even yours.”

“If I’m staying here and helping you watch him, he might as well be.”

“You’re annoying.”

“You’re stubborn.”

“You’re too wild.”

“You’re aren’t enough.”

“You both sound like an old married couple.”

Stiles startles and Derek’s eyes widen. They both turn towards the door to see the old lady from 520.

“Oh calm down you two. I heard some yelling and decided to check out what was happening.”

“Derek look what you did.”

“It’s my fault?”

“As far as I’m concerned you’re the only one who could’ve done something to get Granny’s attention, like I dunno, cuss loudly in front of a baby?”

“Don’t blame this on me.”

“You’re the one getting all emotional over me staying.”

“You’re infuriating.”

“And you’re not?”

Granny watches the exchange with a smile.

“Oh look at you two. Reminds me of my time with my dear old Edgar.”

“I’m sorry?” “Excuse me?”

“And you’ve even synchronized your indignant phrases. I miss those old days.”

“What on earth is going on?” “I’m sorry what are you talking about?”

“Oh you two are ridiculous. Do either of you mind if I stay here by the way? I’m rather lonely back in my old apartment.”

“Yeah sure.”

“Stiles it’s not your position to dictate whether or not somebody can stay here.”

“But you would’ve said yes anyways.”

“Well yeah but that’s besides the point!”

“Whatever. Anyways, I have some Mac’n’cheese to attend to. Granny if you’d like to join me you can. I’ve always wanted to know embarrassing stories about our dear old Derek.”

“Well I do have some very nice ones if I do say so myself.”

“Wonderful we’ll set aside a day to exchange stories.”

The two walk off towards the kitchen exchanging words.

“I’m Stiles by the way.”

“And you can call me Heidi.”

“What a wonderful name. Reminds me of a teacher I had named Heidi. Best english teacher I could’ve asked for. Made me love the subject I was weakest at. Charming lady and had the most wonderful stories about her children, Heather and Grey.”

“She sounds amazing. Tell me more about the best teacher who shares my name.”

Stiles’s voice peters off leaving Derek and Evan alone in the TV room. Evan stares dubiously at Derek.

“Oh not you too!”

“Gah.”

“Ah whatever. Come here squirt.”

Derek rearranges Evan in his arms and carries him towards the kitchen where Stiles and Heidi are whispering quietly and dicing cheese, occasionally glancing at the pot of macaroni noodles to make sure it isn’t overcooked. Stiles speaks up.

“Derek how many times do you eat mac’n’cheese?”

“Pretty much everyday.”

“What about Evan?”

“He eats it sometimes but I usually make something different for him so he can stay healthy.”

“You’re ridiculous.”

“Hush. Besides it all blurs together after a while.”

“Alright then. Heidi. You and I are going on a mission to force Derek to eat any meal we can find for him that ISNT mac’n’cheese or tastes the same as what he usually has.”

Despite the promise, the mac’n’cheese tastes very much the same. It’s still the best meal Derek and Evan have had in ages.