Derek perches behind the short wooden fence separating his yard from the Stilinskis’ yard and watches the scene before him.
Mom is helping Miss Claudia into the passenger side of her car while Deputy John runs around like a maniac. Dad tries to calm him down, but everyone’s way too excited for that.
Derek holds Cora’s hand next to him, but she’s only three, so she can’t see over the fence no matter how hard she tries. She’s getting frustrated, so Derek walks them over to the sidewalk where the view is clearer. He follows all of the rules, though. He stays far from the Stilinskis’ driveway and doesn’t let go of Cora, even when she squirms.
Running out of the house with a duffel bag, Deputy John tosses it into the backseat of the car and climbs into the front. The Hales step aside and wave as Deputy John backs into the street and drives away.
“Oh geez,” Dad says. “Remember those days?”
Mom is really cheerful. “Like it just happened.”
Dad picks Cora up and holds her against his hip. “Yup. Three years flew by.”
“When they come back, they’ll have a baby?” Derek asks, looking up at Mom.
“Yes, Derek. They’ll have a little boy or little girl; they don’t know yet.”
Derek feels the eagerness swell up inside him, too. “And then I can play with the baby?”
Mom laughs. “After it gets a little older. It’ll be very small at first. You just have to be patient. Can you do that?”
Derek is a middle child and the only boy out of three kids, so of course he’s learned to be patient. “Uh-huh,” he nods. “I can do it.”
It’s a boy!
Derek is thrilled the next day when Mom gets off the phone and tells Dad the news. He loves his two sisters and they play together all the time, but it’ll be so fun to have a boy next door.
Like Mom said, he doesn’t get to see the baby for a while, but his parents go next door regularly. Sometimes they bring food with them, and other times they’re just there to help. Derek wants to go with them, but Mom says the baby is still too young to be around too many people. Miss Claudia and Deputy John are also really tired, so Derek has to wait. Even though he’d told his mom he could be patient, it’s getting really hard.
It feels like forever until Mom asks him if he’d like to go over, and he agrees before she’s even done talking. Finally!
The Stilinskis’ living room looks pretty different than the last time he was there, but Derek immediately notices the baby swing near the couch. “Don’t worry, he’s awake,” Miss Claudia says.
As Mom picks the baby up and away from him, Derek can’t help but frown. He sort of listens to what the adults are saying, but mostly he cranes his neck to look.
He hears the baby’s name a couple of times - a name unlike anything Derek has heard before. Back at their house, his parents have said it, but they don’t seem sure they’re pronouncing it right. It doesn’t sound that simple to Derek, but then again, he has sisters with easy names that rhyme.
“Would you like to hold him, too?” Miss Claudia asks.
Derek nods, his earlier crankiness completely forgotten. “Yes, please!”
“Come on, honey,” Mom says. “Sit on the couch and we’ll show you what to do.”
He clambers up quickly, sitting all the way back like his mom prompts.
“See how I’m holding him? His head goes right here, and I help him give it a place to rest.” Mom carefully moves the baby into Derek’s open arms and guides them to in a proper cradling position. “Yes, like that. So he stays safe.”
“I won’t hurt him,” Derek promises. He would cross his heart, but since he can’t, he just thinks it instead.
Derek is five - he’s not that big - but this little thing is tiny! Derek has seen babies at the park, at the grocery store - lots of places - but he hasn’t seen such a small one in a long time.
He stares down at the tiny nose and watches it breathe in, and then at the tiny mouth that smacks into a pucker. The baby’s eyes open and look at Derek.
“Hi,” Derek says softly. “I’m Derek. I live next door and I’m your friend.”
The baby blinks, but keeps looking. Derek stares back, completely mesmerized. “He’s mine,” Derek sighs in a breathy rush of excitement.
The grown-ups laugh around him, but Derek is too busy to pay much attention.
The baby doesn’t do a lot, but Derek already knew he wouldn’t at first. Derek doesn’t remember much about babies since he was only two when Cora was born, but he knows that it takes them a long time for them to learn how to do anything besides scrunch up in the mommy’s belly.
Sometimes, Mom and Miss Claudia sniff the baby’s head and talk about how good it smells. Derek does it, too, even though he doesn’t understand what’s so great about it. He stops when he hears them being sad about how the ‘new baby smell’ is gone.
The baby doesn’t look wrinkly and delicate anymore, either. He starts to get cute. Really, really cute. Now he looks like the babies on the diaper boxes and tv commercials. All big eyes and big head and lots of soft hair. Mom is in love with his baby fat rolls.
Derek loves it when the baby grabs onto his finger and doesn’t let go. He makes really funny faces and really happy noises when he’s not making really upset faces and really upset noises. Mom usually takes Derek back home when the baby doesn’t stop crying, even when Derek says he wants to stay and try to make the baby feel better. But Mom says he’s helping a lot by going back to their house.
The baby seems to grow and figure out new things every day. It’s hilarious when he discovers his feet. He’s super into playing with his feet. Derek does tummy time with him on the floor and the baby can’t get enough of peek-a-boo. It’s a basic game, but he laughs every single time. And he still cries - sometimes, he cries a lot, but that’s okay with Derek. Miss Claudia and Deputy John have gotten pretty good at soothing him, and besides, the baby can’t talk. Crying is one of his ways of talking.
But Derek can, and he constantly talks to the baby, who responds in his own way by turning to Derek at the sound of his voice, cooing, and imitating sounds. When Derek goes with Miss Claudia and the baby for walks, he makes sure the baby knows about all of the interesting things he sees - other kids riding their bikes, dogs trotting by on leashes, the mailman. He also catches bugs in his hands for show-and-tell, and it turns out the baby really likes ladybugs and caterpillars. Derek hasn’t been able to get a butterfly yet, though. Oh well. He’s already waiting for the baby to grow up so they can do the same stuff together. He can wait to share butterflies, too.
Derek taps out a sequence of notes on the toy xylophone before handing the mallet over. He’s not expecting the baby to play the same tune, but it’s pretty entertaining to hear how different it sounds between the two of them.
The baby is still smashing his little heart out, bobbing his head to each chime, when Derek stands up. “I’ll be right back.”
He’s only made it a few steps when he realizes the baby has shifted onto all fours, beginning to crawl after him. “I just have to go potty,” Derek explains. He knows the baby doesn’t understand, but he’s so used to their one-sided conversations. “I’ll be really fast.”
But the baby still follows and Miss Claudia looks over from the dining room table, where she’s folding laundry. “Do you want to escort Derek there?” she asks. Stiles answers with a few more paces forward. “All right, let’s go, turbo.”
Derek takes his time walking the rest of the way since the baby, as good as he is at crawling, can’t move as fast. He even tries to follow Derek into the bathroom, but Miss Claudia picks him up before he gets too far.
The baby whines, so Derek contorts his face into a silly expression to make him laugh. “Wait for me here, okay?”
As promised, Derek doesn’t take too long. After he washes his hands and opens the door, the baby squeals with delight in Miss Claudia’s arms. Derek swings the door back and forth to play a few rounds of reliable peek-a-boo, eliciting more and more shrieks.
“We can go back to our music now,” Derek says, pulling the baby’s hand forward and bringing their palms together in a high-five.
Miss Claudia releases the squirming baby, who’s all too happy to be on the loose. “Take us on a new adventure, fearless leader,” she says, and the baby blasts off down the hall as quickly as his arms and legs will carry him.
Even though the baby is on a very different schedule than Derek, being next door neighbors makes it really easy to have playdates. Derek is allowed to go over by himself now, even if Mom doesn’t come with him. He knows how to behave and the Stilinskis says it’s okay.
The baby goes to bed earlier at night and usually naps a couple of times during the day. He can get really fussy about playtime being over when Derek is around, so Miss Claudia quickly learns to send Derek home at least ten minutes before she puts the baby down in his crib. She also uses the blinds in the nursery to let the Hales know if the baby can have visitors, so Derek has a good sense of whether he can come over without having to knock on the front door. The baby’s window is on the first floor, facing the Hales’ dining room, so out of habit, Derek checks if the blinds are open whenever he walks past.
Derek watches as the baby becomes more mobile, eventually pulling himself to his feet and later cruising around the Stilinski house. The baby gets into pretty much everything, so Miss Claudia and Deputy John have to keep a really close eye on him. Derek tries to look out for him, too. It’s not super hard, even though the baby is constantly in motion. When Derek is there, the baby usually wants to stay near him.
He isn’t there for the baby’s first steps, but he comes by to play one day and sees the most awesome thing ever in the whole world. The baby’s eyes light up like always and then he wobbles over, one eager and unsteady step after another. He eventually topples over, but Derek catches him before his diapered butt hits the ground and showers him with loads of proud hugs.
Talking comes after that. The baby has been a good babbler for a long time, and the babble keeps growing, along with real, recognizable words. His most common ones, besides “mama” and “dada,” are “no” and “uh-oh.” He says “uh-oh” a lot. Takes a tumble? “Uh-oh.” Toy rolls away? “Uh-oh.” Makes a mess of his food? “Uh-oh.”
“You are so smart,” Derek praises when the baby picks up a new word.
He loves it when the baby talks, but his absolute favorite is when the baby laughs and Derek knows he's happy.
Dad lifts Derek closer to the basketball net hanging over the garage door. “He shoots, he scores!” Dad cheers as Derek tosses the ball in.
Cora jumps up and down a few feet away. “My turn!”
As Dad lowers him to the ground, Derek’s feet hit the concrete and Cora leaps into Dad’s waiting arms. She’s trying a third time to make a basket when Mom comes out of the house.
“Derek, I’m going to check in with Claudia while the cutie’s still taking his nap. Do you want to come with me, or do you want me to get you when he wakes up?”
Derek looks at the Stilinskis’ house and then back at Dad and Cora. “I’ll come with you,” he answers. “You get Dad all to yourself, Cora. Keep practicing!”
“Okay!” she grins.
Sometimes Cora gets a little jealous of how close Derek is to the baby, but he honestly does play with her a lot and she often prefers Laura to begin with. Besides, she doesn’t have to compete for their parents’ attention as much when Derek is next door. She’s not that great at sharing yet. Even her preschool teacher says so.
“Go inside and wash your hands first,” Mom says.
He nods obediently, like he wasn’t already going to do that. His hands are dark with dirt and he always cleans up for the baby, who would put worms in his mouth if he was allowed to. Derek doesn’t want him to get sick, and he really doesn’t want to be the reason why.
The moms relax on the couch and talk while Derek plays on the floor. The baby is a year old (but the grown-ups talk about his age in months, which Derek doesn’t understand, because he just tells people he’s six) and he’s got some better toys now. They’re not as fun to play with by himself, though, so Derek quickly moves on to the books. He likes practicing his reading. Sometimes he reads the simple ones with animals to the baby, and they moo and roar and bark together.
Like usual, he doesn’t really listen to what the adults are saying - at least, not until he hears them talk about him.
“Oh, Derek is such a great little helper,” Miss Claudia says to Mom. “He’s wonderful. And Mieczyslaw absolutely adores him.”
Derek looks up from a book about trains. “I love him, too,” he says with a giggle.
“You know, Derek, he hardly ever stays in one place. But sometimes, he roams all around the house. He goes into every room and looks everywhere. It doesn’t matter how many times he falls. He just keeps going - he’ll walk all around the beds, look in the bathtubs - everywhere. I don’t think he’s doing it to entertain himself. I think he’s looking for you.”
“Really?” Derek asks, his green eyes glowing.
“Yeah, he does it when his dad is home, so Mieczyslaw isn’t looking for him. I’ve only seen him do it when you’re not around.”
“Cool!” And he’s not just saying it, either. It’s totally cool to be wanted by someone that much.
Miss Claudia laughs. “And then I have to distract him with something that’s shiny or lights up or makes noise so he doesn’t get upset that he didn’t find what he was looking for.”
Mom motions to Derek to come sit with her, so he squeezes in between her and the arm of the couch, head tilted into her side. He continues paging through the book, letting the moms have grown-up time to themselves.
The silence of the baby monitor is broken up by some quiet rustling noises, followed by a familiar voice speaking nonsense. Derek trails after Mom and Miss Claudia on the way to the baby’s room, but as soon as Miss Claudia opens the door, Derek bursts forward, running around her to get to the crib.
“I’m here, I’m here!” he announces, and the baby stands up and reaches out for him.
The baby pulls the string of his wooden snail toy, wheeling it over to Derek, and thrusts the thin red rope out.
“Oh, is this for me?” Derek asks. “Can I play with it?”
Derek tugs the snail around, too, going slow enough that the baby can chase it and pausing every now and then so he can catch up. The baby says something that Derek can only half-understand, but he tries his best guess.
“Miss Claudia?” he says, raising his voice so she can hear in the kitchen. “The baby wants juice.”
Her reply floats in. “Got it, apple juice, stat.”
She emerges with two plastic cups of watered-down juice. To Derek’s satisfaction, the baby happily takes his sippy cup and drinks a couple of gulps.
Derek has some, too, and Miss Claudia sets their cups down safely on the coffee table before taking a seat on the floor next to them. “Sweetie, I’ve noticed you don’t really call him by his name. You usually call him ‘the baby.’”
Derek’s face gets really warm and he bites his lip. Even his ears feel hot. “Um, I - I don’t know if I’m saying it right. My mom said it’s a family name. So it’s important. I don’t wanna say it wrong.”
“Oh, it’s okay, Derek, it’s not bad,” Miss Claudia says, smiling at him. “You didn’t hurt anyone’s feelings. And you’re right, it’s my dad’s name, but it can be hard to say. I guess we didn’t do this lovebug any favors, huh?”
“It’s Mieczyslaw,” he says quietly. Even though he just admitted he’s not positive how to say it, he’s at least heard it from Miss Claudia and Deputy John lots of times. And it’s embarrassing to not know how to say your best friend’s name!
In Derek’s own family, they rarely say the baby’s name. They don’t really have to. Most of the time, it’s things like, “after you clean up your room, you can play with your friend,” or “the little guy is getting so big.” Sometimes they just call the baby ‘he’ or ‘him’ because everyone knows who they’re talking about. When Derek comes back from the Stilinskis and Mom asks, “did you have a good time with him?” of course she means the baby. If she means Deputy John, she says so.
“Yeah, you got it, Derek.” She ruffles his hair. “And even if you couldn’t pronounce it, we would never want you to feel bad.”
“Is there a nickname?” Derek asks, just as uncertain about that. All of the names in his family are pretty short, so people don’t give them nicknames too often, but Dad sometimes calls him and Cora ‘Der’ and ‘Cor.’
“Do you want to give him one? It’ll probably be easier when he meets new people.”
“Oh!” Derek is surprised. He’s never named anyone before. Laura got to name her pet turtle (Cheetah), but he’s only ever named his stuffed animals and action figures. “Yeah! … Um …”
“You don’t have to come up with one right now. You can think about it. Or I guess you can keep calling him ‘baby,’ even when you’re grown-ups.”
Derek laughs so loudly that the baby laughs, too. No, Derek can’t do that.
Hmmmm. He thinks about the nicknames of other kids he knows. There’s a boy on his tee ball team who’s also named Derek, but everyone calls him DJ because his last name is James. But that sounds cool. MS doesn’t sound cool.
This is hard. One of his friends at school is Vernon, but he tells everyone to call him by his last name, Boyd. Stilinski doesn’t really work out like that, does it? But there’s another kid in class named Bobby Sheppard who insists on going by Shep. That’s what everyone calls his older brother who’s on the high school basketball team.
“St …” Derek starts to sound out, but he doesn’t know where to go after that. “Still …”
‘Still’ is no good. And it’s not true at all, either. The baby doesn’t stay still! Even as he’s sitting with them, he’s fidgeting with a yellow stacking ring and kicking one foot back and forth.
“Stuh … Stile,” he says slowly, and then tries again. “Stiles? Can that be a name?”
“Oh, that rolls off the tongue much easier,” Miss Claudia says. “Stiles. Stiles Stilinski. That’s still a unique name. Part of the reason John was on board with Mieczyslaw is because he thinks his own name is so common.” She laughs. “Though he did try to tell me that Mieczyslaw might be a little too far in the other direction.”
“Stiles,” Derek echoes, still experimenting.
Miss Claudia nods. “I like it. My kid is a special kid, so he’s gotta have a special nickname. Let’s try this out, see if it sticks. Mieczyslaw?”
The baby, now mouthing at the stacking ring, looks up at her.
“Who am I?” Miss Claudia asks, pointing to her chest. “I’m Mama, right?”
She points to Derek. “And who is this?”
She points at the baby. “And who are you? You’re Mieczyslaw, but for short, what about Stiles? Stiles?”
The baby claps his hands against the floor. “Ties!”
“Mama,” Miss Claudia repeats as she gestures around a second time. “Derek. And Stiles. You’re Stiles.”
“Ties!” the baby imitates again.
“I think he likes it, too!” Miss Claudia says. She recites the names in succession once more with similar results. Laughing, she pulls him into her lap. “Is that right? Do you agree? We’ll call you Stiles from now on?”
“Ties!” the baby yells, this time so lively that he drools a bit.
“He’ll get the whole thing eventually, once he gets better at the different sounds. Honestly, I don’t know when he would be able to say Mieczyslaw.”
Derek grins and holds the baby’s - Stiles’ - hands out to bounce them in excitement. “Yeah, but he’s the smartest, so he could still do it way faster than me.”
Miss Claudia leans over and pulls a large toy bin closer, fishing around for the right alphabet blocks and placing six cubes in order to spell ‘Stiles.’ “This is much easier,” she says after identifying each letter out loud for Stiles. “Compared to this.”
She pulls out even more blocks and does kind of a lot of work to spell something else. Derek’s eyes widen. He can barely say Stiles’ real name, let alone spell it. There are so many letters, and they’re all different! One of them is a z! There’s a z in his real name!
“Stiles is such a fun boy’s name,” Miss Claudia says, ducking down to kiss the crown of Stiles’ head. “Can you show Derek ‘thank you’ for thinking of it?”
Derek knows that Stiles doesn’t understand what’s happened, despite his quick acceptance of a new word, but Derek does love the nickname, the more he hears it. Hopefully Stiles really likes it, too, once he’s older.
“Come over here, Stiles,” he says.
Stiles stands up and walks forward, stopping just in front of Derek. They’re almost eye-level this way and Stiles smiles from ear-to-ear, showing off several teeth. “Wick!”
If he doesn’t like it, Stiles can pick a different name later, but Derek secretly hopes he doesn’t. After all, he loves Stiles’ nickname for him.
It’s bright when Derek opens his bleary eyes. Miss Claudia is kneeling next to him and holding Stiles, who’s already awake, in her arms.
“Oh!” Derek says, the memories rushing back to him.
“Did you climb out of your crib, Stiles?” Miss Claudia asks.
Miss Claudia boops Stiles on the nose. “You’re a little escape artist and you wanted to be with Derek, huh?”
Now that Stiles is two, Derek sleeps over at the Stilinskis’ house occasionally. They put Stiles down for the night first and then Derek gets to stay up later with the adults who are home. Sometimes he and Deputy John play checkers - “I can’t wait to teach you chess,” Deputy John says - or he gets special cartoon time.
The Stilinskis have a third bedroom they use as a guest room, but Derek doesn’t want to stay in there. He doesn’t sleep over to be by himself, so he has a little portable mattress he uses on the floor of Stiles’ room.
“I didn’t see him do it, but he didn’t get hurt,” Derek says.
“He’s getting to that age when this is bound to happen. And given how squirrelly he is, I’m surprised he didn’t do this sooner! We’ll take a look after breakfast.”
Breakfast is a simple event for Derek, but it takes a while because Stiles is very insistent about eating with utensils. It’s not a new skill, but he hasn’t gotten very good at it yet. He eats slowly, but he doesn’t mind, even though he’s not a naturally patient boy. Derek eats with utensils, so Stiles must eat with them, too.
After they clean up, Miss Claudia turns on the computer so she can pull up last night’s baby cam video. Derek stands next to the chair while Stiles is perched in her lap with her arm firmly across his belly. He’ll bang his hands all over the keyboard otherwise.
“All right, let’s see what you did, Mister …” Miss Claudia says. It takes her some time to find the right spot, but once a flicker of motion appears in the rapidly advancing images, she zeroes in.
It’s after midnight, and Stiles is lying in his crib while Derek is curled up on the floor under some blankets. That image is interrupted as Stiles stands up in his crib, peering over the top. At first, he only looks around, mostly between the carpet under the crib and Derek. After walking around close to the bars for a bit, he eventually manages to hoist one leg up and hook it over the railing.
It takes much more effort to lift his whole body, but Stiles is nothing but persistent until he gets to the other side of the crib. He holds on tightly to the bars, so close to freedom, as he stretches down and taps one foot to the ground, and then the other.
He teeters backwards, but he regains his balance and doesn’t fall. In victory, he does a bouncy dance, bending at both knees, until he returns to his ultimate mission.
Derek wakes up to see Stiles tugging on the blankets to pull them back, except it’s not working because he’s also standing on top of them.
“Stiles?” Derek asks in a small, drowsy voice.
“Hiiii-iiiiii,” Stiles sing-songs.
“Stiles!” Derek says again, bolting upright with realization. “You got out of your crib. How did you get out?”
Stiles points a hand towards the ceiling. “I go up.” He points his hand in the opposite direction. “I go down.”
“You could’ve gotten hurt.”
“No owies,” Stiles says, unfazed.
“Are you sure?” Derek asks, putting his hands on Stiles’ shoulders.
Stiles closes the distance completely. “I want hugs!” Derek cuddles him and Stiles pushes his face forward. “Kisses!”
Derek pecks him on his pursed lips. “I’m glad you’re okay,” Derek says. “And you’re so tricky. Of course you got out.”
“I’m out!” Stiles copies.
“You wanna sleep here with me?”
“Okay. I can’t put you back in your crib anyway. But no running off, right? You stay here.”
Derek helps Stiles scamper under the covers so they become a bigger lump on the mattress, one that stops moving after another minute or so.
“Yeah, that’s how I found you guys this morning,” Miss Claudia says, pausing the recording. “We’ve already lowered your crib mattress as far as we can, Stiles. So I think it’s time for us to think about getting you a bed for big boys. How does that sound? A bed like Derek’s?”
Stiles nods enthusiastically. “Derek!”
“And then you don’t have to climb out of anything. No jailbreak required.”
“We’ll be big boys together,” Derek says, just as happy as Stiles.
“You know what else big boys do?” Miss Claudia says, setting Stiles down. “They change out of their jammies and put on new play clothes. Go on, Stiles. You can pick.”
Stiles takes off running and Derek follows him. Sometimes Stiles’ clothing choices are … interesting, but they’re always fun. Life is so much more fun with Stiles in it.
The next week when Derek comes over to play, Deputy John greets him at the door. “Stiles has something to show you.”
Derek runs into Stiles’ room, where Stiles is rolling around on his brand new full-size bed, with Miss Claudia sitting on the edge to make sure he doesn’t get too rowdy and fall off. The bed has a blue comforter with robots on it and the crib is gone.
“Wow! Cool, Stiles!”
“Come on!” Stiles beckons.
Derek scrambles onto the bed, too, and Stiles stops turning over to lie next to him.
“Now there’s plenty of room for the two of you,” Miss Claudia says. “And your dad or I can read you bedtime stories and snuggle with you before night-night.”
Stiles is so excited about his new bed that he unleashes a ton of babble, something he does when he has so much to say but doesn’t know how to say it yet.
“Gosh, you are growing up so fast,” Miss Claudia says. “One day, I’ll turn around and you’ll both be taller than me. And then you’ll be doing math I don’t remember how to do anymore, and driving and graduating and going off in the world.”
Derek glances at Stiles, who still wears diapers and loves riding his tricycle. It seems like a really long time before they get old like that. He doesn’t want to get old like that if it means he’s not with his family and his friends.
“We won’t go far,” Derek pledges.
“Oh, you are such a sweet boy, you know that? But it’s okay if you do.” Miss Claudia brushes a lock of hair from Stiles’ forehead. “I think you boys will end up right where you belong.”