4:25 in the afternoon, five minutes before Stiles was due to show up at the loft, there was a timid knock on the heavy door.
Derek frowned slightly and put down his book. He stood up and cautiously moved towards the door, instincts prickling with wariness – he hadn’t heard anyone come up the stairs. The elevator hadn’t made a sound. And someone was at his door. Never a good combination, even when he was expecting company.
On the one hand it might be Stiles, having somehow learned to teleport (he wouldn’t put anything past that kid). But on the other hand it might be something dangerous…
Derek opened the door a crack and peered outside.
Immediately he shut the door again and turned away. “Nope,” he announced aloud, walking back to the couch and his book.
Five minutes later there was the sound of feet on the stairs, cheerfully bounding up towards the loft. The footsteps continued, getting steadily closer, but stopped abruptly as soon as they hit the landing. There was a pause, some confused-sounding murmuring, and finally the door to the loft opened and Stiles leaned inside to ask; “Hey, why have you got a little kid sitting outside? Is he in time out or something?”
“Nope,” Derek said again.
“Then that’s just mean, man. You don’t leave a kid sitting outside like that.” Before Derek could say otherwise Stiles was helping the toddler upright. “Come on, little man,” Stiles said, herding the child towards the threshold, “lets get you inside where it’s… well, not warm and welcoming but, you know, not a cold, dank hallway.”
“Stiles,” Derek started, “don’t –”
“There we go.” And the kid was over the threshold. Inside the loft.
“Jesus Christ now we have to kill it.”
Alarmed, Stiles looked over at Derek in shock, his mouth popping open into a horrified ‘oh’. “What!? Kill this – this is a child, Derek! We don’t kill children! We don’t –”
“It’s not a child,” Derek replied, eyeing the toddler with distrust. “And now you’ve let it inside and we have to kill it before there’s more of them.”
The toddler blinked its large brown eyes and stuck a finger in its mouth. It was adorable. A little bundle wrapped in a puffy coat, its gender ambiguous and its age indeterminable. It smelled like milk and molasses and didn’t make so much as a sound. Human bait.
Stiles put his hands over the child’s ears, still staring at Derek with a horror that was morphing into anger on the tiny creature’s behalf. “What in the hell are you talking about? Of course it’s a child, look at him! He’s a defenceless little kid and we’re not going to –” Stiles’ voice dropped to a whisper-hiss for that one word before going back to normal “–kill him, we’re going to help him find his mom because he’s obviously lost and went to you of all people for help.”
“Sure,” Derek rolled his eyes, “walk around with it. Go knock on some doors. Don’t come crying to me when all the occupants turn up eaten.”
“That thing,” Derek pointed at the toddler, who simply blinked at him, “is a homing beacon. It’s bait. Smell it if you don’t believe me.”
“Smell…?” Stiles looked at him as if Derek had just asked him to lick a toad. “Are you insane, because if you’ve gone insane it’d be nice if you could tell me so I can warn the others before you go on some kind of child-killing rampage.”
“Normal little kids smell gross,” Derek explained as patiently as possible given that he was waiting for more of the little creeps to show up at any time, “like sticky stuff and ‘accidents’, dirt, cotton, juice. That one smells like what, Stiles?”
Tentatively, like he thought Derek was just fucking with him, Stiles leaned down. “I’m human, you know. I’m not gonna be… able… huh.”
Stiles straightened up again, an odd look on his face. “Golden syrup?”
“Yup,” Derek replied, popping the ‘p’.
“And a kid, even a really well behaved one…” Stiles took a step away from the toddler, putting some distance between himself and it, “would have said something by now. Shit. What is it? What did I touch? Is it contagious – am I infected?”
“I told you, it’s bait.” Derek stood up again. He let his claws slide free, flexing his fingers as he stalked slowly closer towards the small child-shaped thing. “You let it in the house, then it makes you forget it wasn’t supposed to be there. Then the rest of them show up, one by one. And when you got to sleep, they eat you. It’s like a changeling child, if changelings roamed in packs and wanted to eat your skin. Shut the door, Stiles.”
For once obeying without question, Stiles reached out a hand and snapped the door shut. He hop-skipped another step away from the toddler, who’s eyes had started to look a little larger and its teeth a little longer.
“If you know what it is, it can’t trick you,” Derek continued, stalking ever closer. “If you don’t let it in, it goes away. You remember hearing tapping on the window as a kid? How you’d duck under your blankets and pretend you hadn’t heard anything. They do that when they look bigger, they tap on windows to try and get kids to open them. If a kid goes missing from their bed, it was them.”
One swipe was all it took. Claws aimed for the neck. There was no spray of blood and no head fell to the floor, only a puffy coat wrapped around a puddle of hot, sticky molasses and sour milk.
“Oh shit,” Stiles gagged at the smell, sickly-sweet rot far too close for even his human nose.
Derek pulled him away, directing the teenager gently towards the couch he’d been sitting on before the thing had knocked on his door. “Come on,” he soothed, a hand gently rubbing up and down Stiles’ back, “just sit down. I’ll clean that up… Then we can still go out if you want to.”
“Fuck that,” Stiles slid a hand around the back of Derek’s neck and pulled him in for a quick, bruising kiss. Then he let the werewolf go and curled up on the couch, feet tucked under himself. “I know what’s out there. Beacon Hills is a horror show, we’re staying right here and ordering pizza.” A beat. “After you clean up. I’m not stepping in syrup-baby remains to open the door for the pizza guy. That’s disgusting.”
“Welcome to my life,” Derek muttered to himself. Still, he shot a fond look over at the teenager on his couch.
If he had to deal with all the horrors that Beacon Hills had to offer at least he had good company.
And new ammunition for his argument against opening the door when you weren’t expecting someone.