Stiles wrenched his curved blade from the Alpha's neck, panting for breath as he stared into lifeless ruby eyes. "And stay down," he grunted as he stumbled away from the corpse.
His hands shook. The blood on his palms felt tacky and itchy; was some of it his? Stiles pressed a hand to his ribs, where his tee shirt was parted in tatters. The Kevlar vest underneath it—god, he hoped his dad never noticed that was missing from his office—was still in one piece.
"Good," Stiles muttered to himself between gasps. "Still human." He slumped against the decaying wall and slipped down to the floor, unable to stand on his watery legs for one minute longer. He let his eyes close just for a second. His heart beat its way back to normal in his chest.
The tortured howl in the distance made it speed up again. Stiles was on his feet in an instant, blade ready, teeth gritted.
"Derek?" he shouted through the desolate hallways of the abandoned hotel. (Why did werewolves always have to gravitate to creepy, abandoned places?) Stiles inched forward a few steps, ears straining for any clues as to what the hell just happened. Not for the first time, he wished he could have all the werewolf super-senses and none of the moonlit crazies. His voice came in a strained hiss, "So help me, if you—"
"If I what?" a voice rumbled behind Stiles.
"Oh my god!" Stiles whirled around, his blade half-slashing in an aborted move. "You—! You did that on purpose!" He stuck a finger in Derek's dirt-streaked face. "Freaking werewolves, tip-toeing around like—"
Derek ignored the admonition, instead focusing on Stiles' torn clothes, his eyes growing hard. "Are you hurt?" He patted at Stiles' belly, examining each slash in his shirt as if confirming the vest had held. Stiles nodded and stopped Derek with a touch to his wrist. They had more important things to worry about.
"It went fine. Just like we planned. The other twin?"
Derek glanced back down the hallway, where Stiles' Alpha victim lay in a gathering pool of blood. "Dead. Did you see any others?"
"No. Either Kali ran or she—" Another sound echoed through the house. Stiles and Derek both froze, knife and claws at the ready. Stiles blinked. "What was that?"
Derek charged toward the creaking staircase.
"Hey, wait up! I am not staying down here all alone in the Bates Motel with the dead bodies," Stiles shouted after him. He sheathed his blade with a rattling sigh and followed at a more sedate pace, stepping carefully on the rotted boards. The stairs looked like they could fall through at any moment and the bulletproof vest would not protect him from that.
When he reached the next floor, Stiles heard a small whimper from the very end of the hall. He rushed into the dilapidated room to find, there in the middle of the dust-laden bed, a pink plastic laundry basket, the rectangular kind with little squares cut in the sides. Stiles peeked inside the basket and—
A baby. Wrapped in a fuzzy white blanket. With a fine shock of dark hair on its head and sky-blue eyes staring from out of its smooshed baby face.
The baby looked at Stiles. Stiles looked at the baby. The baby opened its mouth and let out another ear-piercing wail. Stiles felt the reaction was unwarranted and unfair, not to mention grating on the nerves.
"Do you want everyone in a ten-mile radius to hear that noise?" Derek grunted. Stiles turned with a wince and found Derek in the shadows by the corner, rummaging through the drawers of an old roll-top desk. "Don't just stand there. Pick it up and rock it."
"Uh." Stiles glanced down at his hands. The blood was now caked between his fingers. "I'm kind of...not able to?"
The crying increased in volume and general misery. The baby beat its fists against the sides of the laundry basket.
"Just use the blanket!" Derek said, not looking up from his search of the desk.
"Why can't you—?"
"Stiles! I am trying to find anything else Kali might have left behind, and unless you can track a scent, you need to handle that." Derek nodded in the general direction of the laundry basket.
"Jesus, fine, okay, don't bite my head off." Stiles approached the baby with about the same amount of trepidation he'd had when he'd faced down that Alpha. Figures, he thought. You survive werewolf attacks, manage to learn enough hand-to-hand to make yourself an asset, and take down some of the most dangerous supernatural sons of bitches in the world so their Alpha powers don't go to your Beta friends' heads and cause even more drama (you're welcome, Scott and Isaac!), and this is the thanks you get. A screaming baby, an earache, and a return ticket to Brusqueville, population: Derek Hale.
And they'd been working together so well. Stiles had kind of hoped Derek would see him as an equal from this point forward. But no, now he was a babysitter. Great.
He reached into the laundry basket, carefully keeping his filthy hands on the soft blanket that swaddled the kid into a baby burrito, and lifted him out at arm's length. The baby quieted into a series of snuffling whines, kicking his little feet in the air. He wore tiny white socks, a pair of baby jeans with an elastic waistband, and a shirt printed with grinning giraffes. The clothes looked clean. That was good. It meant someone had been taking care of him. But who? The Alphas? What would the Alpha pack want with a baby?
"I don't think he's hurt," Stiles said, then frowned. "If it's a he. Hey, Derek, can you tell if he's a he?"
Derek looked up from the crisp pages he was leafing through, his eyebrow raised into a sardonic curve. "You're the one holding it. You check."
"Can't you just smell what it is with your super-duper werewolf nose?" Stiles asked. The baby, still dangling at arm's length, began to squirm in Stiles' grip.
"All babies smell the same: like baby powder," Derek said, returning to his study of the Alpha's tax returns or whatever they were.
"Oh." Stiles tried to get a better grip on the wriggling bundle of blanket and baby in his hands. "Hey! Quit it! I'm trying to help y—"
He was cut off by the sight of those baby blue eyes suddenly flickering to ruby red. The baby opened his mouth to reveal a set of pinprick fangs, and a fine dusting of hair sprouted from his heretofore smooth cheeks. Its little body grew under Stiles' fingers, changing from soft and squishy to bigger and more muscled. Its clothes and diaper tore, falling off the bulging infant in shreds. He growled at Stiles, high but loud, jaws snapping in his direction.
"Holy shit!" Stiles dropped the naked baby, which landed smoothly in the little laundry nest below. The baby bounced once, eyes wide, then howled fit to bring the whole house down. Stiles clapped his hands over his ears. "It's a werewolf! A freakin' Alpha werewolf!"
"Of course it is!" Derek brushed past Stiles, practically shoving him out of the way. "Why would the Alphas steal a human child?"
"I don't know!" Stiles shouted over the noise. He eyes widened further. "And what do you mean, stolen?"
"When an Alpha kills another Alpha, all that power is wasted. It just evaporates if no other wolf is nearby to take it on. So sometimes the pack murders an Alpha and allows its child to inherit the Alpha role," Derek said as he picked up the wailing baby. "They keep it fed and alive until they find another wolf they want to bring into the fold. Then they can make their new member an Alpha the easiest way there is: by killing something that can't even defend itself." He hoisted the child in his arms, one hand cradling the back of its furry head, and brought it to his chest.
"Well, how was I supposed to know all that?" Stiles demanded, his voice losing some of its bite as he watched the scene before him. Derek cracked his neck back and forth, and his face shifted into his wolf form, fangs and coarse hair and angry lines marring his forehead. The baby shoved its face into the crook of Derek's neck with a happy, animalistic sound.
Derek bounced the tiny wolf in his arms, all the while making nonsense noises at it. He even closed his eyes briefly, whether from tiredness or whatever, and rested his chin on top of the baby's head. Stiles stared at the picture he made. It was both weird and weirdly adorable.
Derek finally looked up and caught Stiles' eyes, which must have been wide as shit, because he barked, "What?"
"Nothing." Stiles shifted on his feet, crossing his arms and then grimacing at the tacky blood he'd smeared on his shirt. Oh well, it was destined for a trashcan anyway. "You're just freakishly good at that."
"I had lots of little cousins," Derek said, shifting his gaze back to the baby, who was melting back into a tiny, pink, human shape. "It's not brain surgery."
"Excuse me. Only child here. No extended family, no opportunity to learn about this kid stuff." Stiles gestured expansively. He took a quick peek as Derek adjusted the baby against his chest. "Huh," Stiles said. "So he is a he after all."
Derek ignored him in favor of walking around the room in a slow circle, rocking the child and shifting back to his human face. Stiles felt something pull inside his chest out of nowhere. Derek would never hold those little cousins of his again. And this poor kid was all alone too, wasn't he?
"So." Stiles rocked on his heels. "Did Kali leave behind any clues?" Derek scowled and shook his head. Of course, that would be too easy. "Okay," Stiles sighed, tugging a hand through his too-long hair. Jesus, when would he ever find the time to cut it again? "Now the big question: what are we going to do with this baby?"
Derek paused in his slow circuit of the room and looked at Stiles like he'd grown three heads. "What do you mean?"
"I mean, what. Are. We. Going. To. Do," Stiles said slowly. "Should we just leave him here for the cops to find?" Stiles checked his phone nervously. They should really get going; the hotel was in a rundown section of town, but the neighborhood wasn't deserted by any means. If someone had heard the fighting, Beacon Hills' Finest would arrive very soon.
"Are you insane?" Derek hissed. The baby whimpered against his chest as if disturbed by the venom in his voice, and Derek's hand immediately came up to caress the back of his head. "If we do that, where will he end up? Foster care? State custody?" Derek shifted the baby onto his hip like some kind of professional, jiggling him there to keep quiet. "He's an Alpha werewolf with a tendency to grow fangs when he feels threatened. Do you really think it's wise to let some clueless humans handle him?"
"I'm a clueless human!" Stiles felt some belated panic rise in his throat. His arms gave a helpless flail. "Dude! Why did you tell me to pick him up in the first place? I could have been bitten!"
"I didn't think you'd be so terrible at calming him down," Derek snapped.
"Oh, so this is my fault? I—"
A siren sounded faintly in the distance. Stiles went stockstill. Was it coming closer? Shit, it was.
"We have to go." Derek threw open the musty closet door, finding nothing but empty shelves. "There have to be supplies somewhere. Help me look, damn it!"
Perched on Derek's hip, the baby creased his face in worry and gave a long, low moan. Derek shushed him in quiet tones.
"Right. Supplies." Stiles ducked his head to peer under the bed, where he found a crisp-looking quilted bag stuffed full to bursting. He hauled it out and rifled through its contents. "Got it! Clothes, diapers, formula: everything a little werebaby needs."
"Take it. Let's move," Derek said, collecting all the scraps of baby clothing and the bloody blanket in the laundry basket and grabbing that too. It wouldn't be smart to let the police know a baby had been at their crime scene, after all.
"Move? Move to where?" Stiles called after him. But Derek was already carrying basket and baby down the hall while Stiles followed, shouldering the heavy diaper bag and muttering about the werewolf-free vacation he was so desperately owed.
Stiles drove while Derek held the kid in his lap, breaking about every state law that touched on babies and cars. Derek grunted out the directions to his apartment.
That's right. Apartment.
"You're telling me," Stiles said as Derek unlocked his nondescript door marked 3F, "that all this time we've been holding clandestine meetings at abandoned train stations and after-dark locker rooms, we could have been hanging out at your apartment? Like normal people?"
Derek juggled the baby, who was chewing on a teething ring Stiles had found in the diaper bag, onto his hip. He frowned at Stiles as he pushed open the door.
"This place is private," he said. "I'm only letting you in because you can't go back home covered in blood."
"Uh, I also helped you defeat the most dangerous wolf pack in the country, like, twenty minutes ago. Can I get a thank-you? A pat on the head? Something?"
Derek snorted but didn't deign to answer. He just went inside with the baby. Stiles dragged the diaper bag behind him and kicked the door shut. He was about to comment on werewolf hospitality (lacking), but the chance to see Derek's secret domain sort of took precedence.
The apartment was so Derek. Somehow, everything fit: the huge open layout, the pull-up bar in the open doorway that led to the bedroom, the sleek lines of the furniture, the galley-style kitchen with one cup and one plate in the dish drainer, the single leather jacket on the coatrack by the front door.
"Stiles." Derek's voice snapped him out of his examination of the media cabinet that held a modest flat screen TV. Stiles looked up to see Derek standing over the kitchen table. The baby was naked there, pillowed on his fluffy blanket.
"Diaper?" Derek raised his eyebrows in a way that made his familial resemblance to Peter (rest in peace; he had been a decent guy there at the end) very clear.
"Right. Sorry." Stiles dug around in the bag until he found the folded Huggies and handed them over to Derek like they were radioactive.
Derek sighed and took them with a roll of his eyes. "The rest, too." He gestured at the bag, which Stiles handed over without a fight.
Stiles perched on the arm of the sofa and watched as Derek wrapped the baby efficiently in a new diaper. It made him wonder just how many cousins Derek had grown up with, and how much he'd been expected to help out with them. Maybe in a big pack, it took a village or whatever. He sure seemed to know his way around a bottle of baby powder, at any rate.
Derek fished a new shirt out of the bag and tugged it over the child's head. The baby seemed delighted by this process, squealing and kicking his chubby legs. "Go take a shower, get all the blood off," Derek said over his shoulder to Stiles. "Fingernails especially."
Stiles played with the ragged shreds of his shirt's hem. "Got anything I can wear?"
With a completely deadpan face, Derek held up one of the baby's shirts, showcasing the bright yellow sun on the front. "Is this your size?"
Stiles made a face at him. Jerk. Not too long ago, it had been Derek hiding at his house, covered in bloodstains. Not too long ago, Stiles hadn't known the depths of Derek's drier-than-the-Sahara humor.
The bathroom was attached to the bedroom. Stiles helped himself to a towel and the bottle of combination body soap/shampoo/conditioner that sat on the corner of the tub. He stood under the hot spray for a long time, thinking about how this was so not how he'd imagined this day going. He should've been planning a Hooray We Beat the Alphas celebration, not wondering what baby werewolves eat.
Well, it could have been worse. He could've ended up in the hospital. Or in a shallow grave.
Stiles stepped out of the shower and toweled off, considering just how ridiculous he was going to look in one of Derek's giant shirts, when he heard it: a low growly sound coming from the living room. At first he thought Derek might be talking to somebody, so he crept to the doorway, curious, with the towel wrapped firmly around his hips.
Oh god. That noise. It was Derek. Singing.
He sat on the sofa with the baby curled against his chest. His eyes were closed, his hand moving in a hypnotic circle across the baby's shirted back. The lyrics of an unfamiliar lullaby rumbled softly from his throat.
She's coming through your window
Spreading herself across the floor
So lay your head down, lovely, and meet her with me once more
When the sky is black and the stars are bright
I'll stand next to you on that shore
So lay your head down, lovely, to await the moon we adore
Stiles stood, transfixed, as Derek's eyes slitted open and focused on him. "Middle drawer," he said in a whisper.
"The middle drawer. That's where my shirts are." The baby gave a tiny snore against his chest.
"Ah. Got it. Sorry, I just—" Stiles brushed a hand over the back of his head, missing the bristly feeling of his short hair. "That song. It was really pretty."
Derek stared at him for one long beat. "My mom used to sing it to us," he finally said.
Stiles pursed his lips and nodded, his gaze falling guiltily to the carpet. He knew better than most that there was nothing more to say to something like that.
"I'll, uh—" Stiles grimaced at his bare chest; was he really standing near-naked outside Derek's bedroom? "I'll find something to wear." He ducked back inside the room, closing the door slowly in deference to the napping baby.
When he emerged a few minutes later in his own skuzzy jeans and one of Derek's illegally tight tank tops (which was just baggy enough on him), Stiles saw that the baby was sprawled out on the sofa cushions, asleep. Derek was rooting around in the diaper bag and separating its contents into piles.
"All tuckered out?" Stiles said in a quiet undertone, tipping his chin in the kid's direction. He tiptoed to the coatrack and hung up his Kevlar vest; no sense in bringing it home where his dad would undoubtedly find and reclaim it.
"Yeah." Derek matched his volume. "He was exhausted. An Alpha at that age, it must be a hell of an adjustment for his body to make." He examined the label on a can of formula with a frown.
"Well. I better go. Getting late," Stiles said. It was a school night, after all. He glanced at the baby again. "You okay here?"
"Yeah. Go home. Get some rest."
"What about the whole—" He gestured to the sofa. "—baby thing?"
"Go home, Stiles," Derek said. Stiles went.
He sat in his Jeep in the parking lot, holding his phone in his hands for a long time before sending a text to Scott.
You up? Need to talk.
The answer didn't come until Stiles had driven all the way home.
At Isaac's. I'll see you tomorrow, we'll talk then.
Sure, Scott, Stiles thought with a sigh. Let's chat about my first werewolf kill in first period chem. I'm sure our classmates and teachers will get a kick out of it. I'm fine, by the way. Asshole.
He went to bed thinking about how, yeah, best friends sometimes grow up and grow apart, but Jesus, did it have to happen with the added threat of paranormal throat-tearing?
Maybe that was why he found himself back at Derek's apartment the next day after school: because Scott didn't have time to hear what he had to say about the Alpha pack after all, and Isaac or Allison or whoever it was that day was more important, and goddammit, Stiles had washed Derek's stupid tank top and wanted to give it back before he forgot about it and let it sneak into his rotation. Which would be creepy and pathetic.
So he stood there, holding the folded shirt in his hand, and rang the doorbell of 3F with some mild niggling worry at the back of his head.
"What is it?" Derek asked when he opened the door.
Stiles pulled an Excuse You face. "Nothing. Here." He handed over the clean tank top.
Derek took it with a nod. "Thanks."
Stiles stood there in the hallway, fighting the urge to twiddle his thumbs. Oh. That was what the niggling worry had been: now that the Alpha pack was dealt with, he and Derek didn't have much of a reason to work together anymore. That was it, alliance over, time to shake hands and say see you later.
Stiles scratched the back of his head. "So I guess I should be—"
A howl that could only be categorized as cute warbled from inside the apartment, and Derek left the doorway with a soft curse.
An open door was an invitation, wasn't it? Stiles crept inside and shut it behind him. "The kid's still here?"
"Obviously," Derek said from his position bent over a—wow, was that a high chair? It was, all shiny and new with its colorful cardboard box still leaning against the nearby wall. And it was not alone. As Stiles looked around, he spied new baby crap everywhere: a crib in the corner, a ton of diapers still in plastic grocery bags over by the couch, a stroller by the door. Stiles took a step forward and something squeaked under his foot. He lifted his shoe and found a rubber rabbit smiling up at him.
What was that feeling in his chest? Oh right, increasing anxiety. "You sure bought a lot of, um, stuff."
"Just some essentials" Derek said, off-hand.
"But why? I mean, it's not like he's going to be here very long," Stiles said slowly. "Right?"
Derek didn't answer. He didn't even turn around. He just retrieved a tiny plastic spoon from the floor and took it to the sink to rinse.
"Derek?" Stiles took another step closer. "Derek, tell me he's not going to be here very long."
"I don't know, okay?" Derek said. He finally turned to face him, leaning back against the counter and throwing his arms wide as if to say what do you want from me? "I have no idea. It's none of your business, anyway."
"None of my—?" Stiles' mouth flapped open and closed. "If you're caught with a baby that I helped abduct, that totally, one hundred percent falls under the heading of Stiles' Business."
"We did not abduct him, we rescued him. And no one's going to get caught. I'll figure something out."
"Like what?" Stiles chewed at his lower lip, raking a hand through his damp hair in thought. "Like finding this kid's family and getting him home safe? Because that would be the best thing to do."
Derek slammed his hand down on the lip of the sink, causing the dishes to rattle. "His parents are dead, Stiles! The Alpha pack never left survivors, remember?" They both paused then, thinking about Boyd and Erica. Derek continued, quieter, "He doesn't have anyone."
Stiles swallowed, taking in the sight of Derek's eyes, darkened with memories. "Okay, let's think. Do you know any packs that might want to adopt?" he asked.
"No pack in their right mind would take him in. He's an Alpha. There's no place for him in a traditional pack." His eyes flickered to the tile floor as he said that.
Stiles knew that look. It was the Derek is About to Make a Huge Mistake look. "No, no no no, Derek, you can't." His hands fluttered in a series of stop, desist gestures. "Don't even think about raising this kid yourself. That is a horrible idea."
"Why?" Derek asked, his eyes blazing red.
These days, it took more than a little glint of werewolf eyes to scare Stiles. He started counting off reasons on his fingers. "One: you are twenty—what, three years old? You live in a one-bedroom apartment and don't have a job. I've watched enough Teen Mom to know what that means. Two: you don't have any records or anything to prove this kid is yours because, oh, he's not. Three: you're both Alphas! How the hell will that even work? Will you give him a little collection of stuffed animals to boss around until he's old enough to challenge your Alphaness or whatever!?"
Stiles' rising voice must have disturbed the baby, because the kid looked up from his plate and let out a pitiful wail that went on and on and on.
"Great, thank you," Derek muttered as he pushed past Stiles. "Would you mind keeping your voice down? His ears are about ten times more sensitive than a human's."
"Sorry," Stiles said, feeling awkward and douchey. Stiles Stilinski: makes babies cry, makes Derek pissed. Perfect.
"It's okay, it's okay," Derek whispered as he picked up the baby and pressed his little face to his shoulder. "I've got you, it's okay."
The baby's cries wound down like a toy with dying batteries. Derek kept up the stream of words with little growling sounds in between, which the kid seemed to answer with his own. Stiles watched and listened with a heavy heart; it was a conversation he'd never understand.
Derek pressed a kiss to the silky hair on the top of the baby's head as the last of his whimpers faded. "You're good," he said. "You're okay." He looked up and met Stiles' gaze. "My scent seems to calm him. He must be used to the smell of other Alphas by now."
Stiles shifted on his sneakered feet. How long had the Alpha pack kept this kid as their own personal Alpha Power Carryall? Poor little guy.
"I know it won't be easy to raise this child," Derek said in a quiet undertone. "Hell, it may even be impossible. But I don't see another option. You can scoff all you want but maybe—maybe I found him for a reason."
It was hard to argue that when Derek looked so natural, standing there with the baby cradled against his chest.
"Fine, do what you want," Stiles relented with a shrug. "Just leave me out of it."
Derek, of course, did not leave him out of it.