John Stilinski got married in a church. He wasn’t religious- his parents were Christmas-Easter Catholics, and so was he- but it was important to Claudia’s parents, so they agreed to be married in their small parish church out in the middle of bumble-fuck Iowa. After Stiles was born, they would sometimes take him to St. Lucia’s on Christmas, and even John could admit that he enjoyed the ritual and pageantry and sense of community, but Claudia died and they stopped going. Nowadays, he finds that he sometimes considers stepping into St. Lucia’s every once in awhile. Recent events have made him maybe a little less wary of the things he cannot prove, and life’s been wearing him down, but then again, he’s not so sure what Jesus would think of werewolves.
The point is, it’s been awhile since he’s pulled open the heavy wooden doors at St. Lucia’s.
It’s the warmth that hits him first, the heat’s on full-blast, and it’s cold outside- then the smell of incense. Claudia’s hand is in his and then it’s gone. Father Santiago stands in the aisle, his hands clasped in worry. There’s another figure in the nave, their back turned to John. Other than that, nothing seems out of the ordinary, no sign of violence or robbery.
The wail of a newborn, furious and loud, echoes across the church, as if to greet him. Stiles had cried like that for weeks and weeks after he was born. It was the best and most awful thing John had ever heard. It’s the first time in his many terms as Sheriff that the Baby Moses law has been used, but he’s not surprised. It was only a matter of time.
“Father,” he says, tearing his eyes away from the nave, from the person hushing and rocking the infant. He grasps the priest’s offered hand. “What’s going on?”
“At first I thought it was a joke,” Father Santiago answers, “you know, one of those toy baby-dolls that cry all the time. I thought some kid had put one in our manger display. I tried to ignore it, but the crying was getting disturbing, so I went to go try and turn it off I saw that it wasn’t a toy, it was real, it was a baby. I rushed him inside, and wrapped as best I could and called 911. Your man said I should call for you, so I did. I don’t know much about babies, but I would guess he’s just a few days old.”
“Thank you, Father,” John squeezes his shoulder briefly. “You did the right thing. Let’s go get that little guy sorted out.”
The figure in the nave turns around, and it’s Parrish. John doesn’t know how he didn’t recognize his deputy browns from the church entrance. There has always been something indistinct about Parrish, as if the edges of him are blurred in smoke, but still John should have known him.
“Parrish,” he steps up to the altar, “what’s the story? Get some paramedics in here; social services. You don’t need me for this.”
Parrish is holding the infant like a fullback carrying the football, tight and close to his body, as if he’s afraid someone’s going to strip it away from him at any moment.
“Sir,” he whispers, “this baby is running hot.”
“So call the paramedics, get Sally on the line. For heaven’s sake, Parrish, this baby needs a hospital, not the sheriff” The baby is hot to the touch but his pale eyes, when they blink open, are clear and he’s not flushed like a feverish infant would be.
“No,” Parrish hisses, “I mean this baby is running hot. I don’t think he’s human.”
John looks at the priest, still standing in the aisle, hunched in concern. He looks at the baby in his duck onesie and little yellow hat.
“Oh, fuck,” he says.
This is his favorite part- just the two of them lying on his bed as the morning brightens. Will is happy. He’s been fed and changed and he’s kicking his feet up as he tries to get a fist into his mouth. He makes noises- he’s not babbling, he’s way too young for that- but he’s grunting with effort as his arms flail. Derek leans close. Will smells of formula and diaper cream and himself- human and not. Derek babysat for Peter’s kids when they were young, but he doesn’t remember it being like this. Was Maggie’s skin ever this soft and perfect? Was her grip so incredibly strong? It might have been the case, but he has forgotten like he has forgotten so many of the little details about his family. He has forgotten the lullabies and the color of the nursery and if it was his Dad who bathed him every night or his Mom. So many of the minutiae that Stiles seems so interested in for some reason, that Stiles himself seems to remember about his own childhood, escapes him.
So he doesn’t know. He doesn’t know when Cora first flashed her eyes, or when his parents knew for certain that Jaimie was human and not a were like the rest of them. He could ask Peter, theoretically, but he hasn’t told Peter about Will. Peter has forfeited his right to this child. He has forfeited his right to a family. Cora, for her part, refuses to talk about it. Even after meeting Will over Christmas, she remained silent. Derek doesn’t know how to ask. It’s possible she’s punishing him. Who knows?
Derek is alone in this.
It still seems to him almost a fever dream. He was half asleep when the Sheriff had shown up at his door a few days before Christmas holding a squalling infant in his arms.
“I’m so sorry to wake you this early, Derek,” he had said, his breath misting in the air. “I didn’t know where else to take him.”
Derek had let him in the trailer, blinking in confusion, and heard the Sheriff out as he drank his coffee. It should have been funny, or moving even, a baby left in the manger before Christmas, but all he could think about was the cold and the fear and confusion. He held his arms out.
Nobody would mistake Will to be a Hale by blood- his skin is just a shade too dark, and his eyes, so pale in his first few weeks of life have, of late, begun to turn a deep, startling brown- but the moment he took that boy into his arms, Will was his.
The Sheriff had looked at him, watched him put the baby over his shoulder, carefully cradling his head, and stepped around the perimeter of the trailer, taking in the spare, unmade single bed and the dripping faucet; peering out the window at the building site a few feet away.
“Come on, son,” he had said, zipping his jacket. “This is no place for a baby. We have a spare room. You’ll take it until your house is up. And besides,” he added, already halfway out the door, so certain that Derek would follow him, “you don’t want to do this alone, trust me.”
So Derek had followed and now here he is and here he has been for the past month and a half, living in a strange haze of feedings and diaper changes and sleep deprivation. Nobody had warned him about the sleep deprivation.
Soon Derek will get up and go downstairs to join Stiles who is clattering around making coffee in the kitchen. Stiles doesn’t sleep well. Sometimes Derek sits up in bed, woken by some infinitesimal noise, some parental instinct didn’t know he had, to find that Stiles is already there standing over Will’s bassinet, soothing Derek’s son before he had even begun to cry.
“I’ve got him,” he whispers. “Go back to sleep, Derek.”
In the dark, in the quiet, with just the sounds of the night outside-in that great silent period between nature’s wakings- Stiles lifts Will up and holds him close, shushing and humming a wordless tune as he closes the door behind him. Safe. Safe, the darkness and the house says. Safe, says the trail of Stiles’s scent behind him. Safe. We are all safe. Derek turns around and goes back to sleep.
Soon. Soon, he’ll go down to the kitchen and Stiles will smile at them and take Will from Derek, lifting him high above his head.
“Hi, little guy,” he’ll say. “Hi there, my charming Billy,” and Derek will grumble because his name isn’t Billy, Derek’s father was never called Billy, and Charming Billy is a book about an alcoholic who is terrible to his family, but he’ll also smile in spite of himself, and pour himself some coffee and warm a bottle. He’ll sit and talk to Stiles as he feeds Will, or rather, let Stiles talk to him about his classes until the Sheriff comes down and then they’ll all get along with the business of getting along with their days.
In a few more minutes that will happen. Not just yet. He just wants to lay here for another few minutes with Will’s little, warm body close to his, his fingers clasped around Derek’s.
“Little boy, little wolf,” Derek singsongs, and Will’s eyes focus on his face. His gaze is a miracle. Please let him have this; he just wants to have one more minute in this miracle.
Kissing Stiles is an accident. He doesn’t mean to do it, but yesterday Stiles had come to the house and helped him pick out wood for the cabinets and granite for the counters and everything fit, and the day before he had walked with Will for over an hour as he screamed his way into a nap so that Derek could go over the paperwork from the contractor. Derek doesn’t mean to do it, but it’s still very early and he’s still mostly asleep, and there is Stiles holding Derek’s son in the crook of his arm, just talking to him as he grabs the milk from the refrigerator.
It is a memory that isn’t even a memory, it’s a ghost- the kitchen in the morning, his mother leaning into his father’s body to kiss him. It’s not a memory, it’s an instinct. Derek leans into Stiles’s body and kisses him.
Time stops, maybe. Stiles steps back. His eyes are wide. Derek steps back. His breath is short and his fingers trail along Stiles’s arm.
“Stiles-” he starts, and Will, with impeccable timing, promptly spits up all over the both of them.
“Do you think I should have him baptized?” The question is eating at him. He does not think about the kiss. He thinks about Will's mother. Derek can’t help it, he can’t help imagining what might lead someone- a werewolf or even a human- to abandon their child like that. It makes the hair stand up on the back of his neck. He knows what it means to run. He imagines her dark and small and terrified. He imagines her crawling through his window one day- tomorrow, in five years, ten years- and demanding her son. What if the church was not just an act of desperation, but an act of faith? How could he fail her in that?
The Sheriff glances up from the files scattered over the dining room table. Derek looks away, busying himself with the intricate operation that is untangling Will from the infant sling Lydia had given him without waking him up. The clock in the kitchen ticks away. Upstairs, Stiles is Skyping with Scott. Derek does not listen in.
“Were you- were you church-going folk?” the Sheriff asks.
“No. We had Christmas and Easter, like everyone else, but we didn’t- we never went to church or anything.” His family had had their own rituals. Full moons were holidays enough.
“Then I don’t see why you should have him baptized. I suppose you could talk about it with him when he’s older, when he can understand more about where he was found-give him that choice then. But I don’t see any reason why you should have to do it now if it’s not part of your heritage.”
“I just thought maybe his mom, or whoever put him there, would want that, you know?”
Werewolves could be Catholic. They could be anything. But he, he can’t. Even for Will, even for his mother, he doesn’t think he could step foot in a church. He is damned, he knows it, damned forever for everything he has done in his life. Damned now in this moment for wishing, for hoping, that Will’s mother is dead so that he never has to explain to his son that his mother left him, so that no one could ever come and take Will away from him.
“Son,” the Sheriff is uncurling his clawed fingers, and gently, gently lifting Will from Derek’s arms. “Derek, look at me. Look at me. Look at your boy.” Will is whimpering in his sleep. Derek did that. He did that and he could howl.
“Derek,” the Sheriff says softly, “I know that your life hasn’t given you much reason to trust in the good things, and I can’t tell you that it’s going to be good forever. We both know that’s a promise I can’t make, but right now, Derek, right now you’ve got your boy and you’ve got us, ok? Life’s throwing you a curveball. That’s alright. Not all of them are going to knock you out. Will is fine and you are fine and you are doing a fine job.”
Now Will is pliant against Derek’s body again, his little belly rising and falling in sleep. Derek doesn’t know why. He doesn’t know how the Sheriff trusts him with this. The Sheriff clasps his shoulder and Derek thinks he may be crying, but he can’t be sure, because he hasn’t had a full night’s sleep since he got Will and everything is a bit fuzzy around the edges and he doesn’t- he can’t-
“Come on, son.” The Sheriff steers him to the living room, “why don’t you put that baby down for a bit. Go shower and take a nap. I may be old, but I’m still fully capable of keeping an eye on an infant for a few hours.” He gives him a little shove. “Go on.”
Derek goes on.
It doesn’t get better, it gets worse. He is not doing fine. He knows he’s shifted to beta. He knows it’s a feedback loop- Will’s screams are amplified to his wolf ears and the sound of it ratchets up the adrenaline already coursing through his bloodstream and he can’t shift back. He’s on high alert and he’s ready to fight, but there’s nothing to fight, there’s just his baby’s siren wails, his tiny clenched fists, his stomach so, so tight under Derek’s hand. Derek holds him and he walks and he walks and walks. He paces miles around the house. He sings. He rocks Will gently, taking his pain and flashing his eyes. In desperation, he even lays him down on the bed, shifts entirely, and rests his wolf head on Will’s chest. For just one moment, it works. Will startles and stops crying in surprise. He bats at Derek’s head, almost poking him in the eye, and pulls at his fur. If Derek could laugh, he would.
Then the moment passes.
The Sheriff comes home from work. Stiles comes home from his night class. Will cries. Will cries and Derek just wants to shake him quiet. He just wants to slap a hand over that little mouth, and shake him so he can have just one minute, just one minute to clear the buzz in his head. He just-
He’s in the hallway.
“Stiles,” he says, because Stiles is already there. Stiles is always there. “Stiles.” He’s left his baby. Will is all alone in the room, still screaming, still in pain.
A door opens and shuts. The Sheriff emerges holding Will and his phone.
“John,” he turns. This is it, this is the end, they’re going to call social services, they’re going to take Will. They should take Will away from him.
“I’m calling Melissa,” the Sheriff says.
“Not Deaton?” Stiles asks.
“We’ll call Deaton in the morning. Melissa can handle this. That sounds like a baby with colic and that’s a Mel problem, not a Deaton problem."
“Can werewolves even get colic?” Stiles asks.
The Sheriff looks at Derek, but Derek is already walking away. He walks down the stairs, through the living room and out the door into the cool night air. He collapses on to the front steps, head buried in his knees.
He breathes. He breathes. His son is still screaming. He pants and he shudders.
“Derek?” The tips of Melissa’s sensible white shoes appear at the edge of his vision. He lifts his head and nods toward the house.
Melissa’s smile is kind. “Now, that sounds like a baby with colic,” she says. Her hand brushes over Derek’s head and lingers for a second as she passes him by. “It’s going to be fine. Don’t worry.”
It’s not going to be fine. Werewolves don’t get sick; they don’t get colic. Either something is very very wrong, or Will’s not a werewolf and if Will’s not a werewolf, then there’s no reason, no reason at all for Derek to have him, but if he is a werewolf-
“Hey.” Stiles settles beside him.
“I can’t do this,” he says. “I can’t”
Stiles takes his hand. “I was thinking,” he says. “You guys bleed, right?”
“You’ve seen me bleed, Stiles. I’ve bled all over you.”
“That means you have red blood cells, and white blood cells.”
“Which means you have an immune system, just like humans have immune systems. I think yours just works faster.”
From the back of his mind somewhere it comes to him now, Cora’s small body burning up- a fever, there and gone in the course of a day.
“So he has colic. He’ll cry for a day or two and then it will be gone and you’ll survive this. This is normal. You know, my dad said that I had colic for a good two months. I cried for hours every night.”
“How?” Derek gapes. Two months, Jesus. “How did your parents do it? It’s barely been one night and I’m going crazy.”
“Lots of coffee and, evidently, earplugs. Who knew?”
“I’m a terrible father.” It’s not an answer-Stiles’s question was rhetorical anyhow- but it’s the truth. How can he be a father when most days he can’t even remember his own father’s face? How can he be a father when he is here, outside, while someone else is inside caring for his screaming child?
And yet, somehow, now, in the still night air, with Stiles thigh pressed against his own he can open his shoulders and breathe. He closes his eyes. He can hear the night birds and the raccoons that live under the porch. He can hear Stiles’s steady heartbeat, a car turning the corner a block away, Melissa’s footsteps in the house, to and fro, to and fro, and Will’s cries, still shrill and unbroken, but tapering. The tide of anxiety has washed over him, leaving a clear-headed exhaustion in its wake.
“You’re an excellent father,” Stiles says, taking his face in his hands. “You’re an excellent person,” he says again, with intent, and kisses him.
Stiles’s heartbeat thrums through Derek’s veins like a livewire, like a thousand cicadas in the preserve at dusk. He curls his fingers reflexively, holding on, keeping Stiles there, keeping himself steady.
When Stiles pulls back he is smiling.
“I think we should go on a date,” he says.
Derek is a werewolf. He has no family to speak of, and barely even has a pack. Until recently he had been living in a trailer. He is an unemployed, socially maladjusted, sleep-deprived single-father who never finished college. He hasn’t showered in three day, changed his clothes in two and he can’t remember the last time he shaved.
“Yes, a date. As I understand it a date is a social convention wherein two people who are romantically interested in spending time together spend time together.”
“I know what a date is, Stiles.”
“So, let’s get out then.”
“Stiles, I once threatened to rip your throat out.”
Stiles shrugs, “I once accused you of murder. Come on, it will be nice. Dad will take Will for a couple of hours, we’ll get dressed up in real clothing and go out to dinner like real live adults. Maybe I can even get you to trim that awful thing on your face,” he combs his fingers through Derek’s beard. “You look like a hockey player with a playoff beard.”
“I probably smell like one, too,” he says, and Stiles snorts. “Ok,” Derek says finally, extracting Stiles’s hand from his facial hair so he can cradle it in his palm. “Yes. Let’s go on a date.”
“Good. Yes. Good.”
“Good,” Derek agrees.
“Oh wait,” Stiles is pulling something out of his back pocket. It’s a crumpled piece of red construction paper, unevenly folded and wearing at the edges. “That’s been sitting there all day. I totally forgot to give it to you.” He holds it out to Derek.
Derek takes, and turns it over a few times before opening it up and smoothing it out on his knees. It smells of warm denim, Stiles and Will.
“Happy Valentines Day,” Stiles says.
“It’s Valentine’s Day?” Derek didn’t even realize it was February.
“Yup. And that’s a Valentine from me and Will.”
The blue crayon is barely legible on the dark red paper, but Derek can make out a badly drawn heart with the words, “Be Mine” scrawled in Stiles’s chicken-scratch handwriting. Below it is a tiny blob of yellow paint. It is almost a handprint.
“This is really great.” Derek smiles. “Thank you, Stiles. Happy Valentine’s Day.”
Stiles shrugs and flushes. “Will’s really wiggly and he doesn’t like paint, but it’s ok, I guess.”
Derek laughs, because he can. It is suddenly very, very quiet. The silence is the best things he’s heard in days and days.
“I think he’s stopped.”
“Oh, thank God,” Stiles breathes. “I was seriously considering sleeping in my car tonight. God bless Melissa.”
“If I were God I’d give her Sainthood.”
“I think the Catholic Church does that, not God.”
“You want to go in and check on him?”
Will’s heart beats slow and steady in the living room. The Sheriff’s heartbeat is measured and even somewhere nearby. He must have fallen asleep on the couch. Melissa is washing dishes in the kitchen. Derek knows he should go help her, but he can’t make himself move just yet.
“Nah,” he says, resting his head on Stiles’s shoulder and closing his eyes. “Let’s just stay here a little bit. Just for a little while.”
Derek was wrong. This is his favorite part.
It’s just light when he wakes to the sound of Will gurgling and cooing to himself in his bassinet. He’s been doing that more and more often now- waking happy. Derek extracts himself from under Stiles’s limbs and sits up
“Baby,” Stiles mutters and Derek whether he’s talking to him or to Will. It’s a moot point, because Stiles’s eyes don’t even open, they just flutter, moving rapidly under his eyelids, and then he turns over and is asleep again.
Derek pads over to the bassinet and lifts Will up into his arms. “Hey there, guy,” he whispers.
“Hey there, little wolf.” Will laughs and stuffs his fist into Derek’s mouth.
It’s too early to get up, so he changes Will and then climbs back into bed and settles against the headboard, balancing Will on his updrawn knees. Will’s dark eyes are trained on Derek’s face.
“Now,” he tells Will, “we have to be quiet. We don’t want wake Stiles up. He’s very tired.”
“Too late,” Stiles groans and rolls onto his side, propping himself up on an elbow so he can blow raspberries into Will’s chubby legs. “Hello, Will, my charming Billy, William the Conqueror. Good morning.”
Will chortles and Stiles laughs and the scent of all three of them is all over the room. Three miles away, on the edge of the preserve, there is a house. It’s not a big house, but it’s big enough. Now, the sunlight will be creeping across the kitchen, illuminating the whorls in the wood flooring. Now the curtains in the master bedroom will be dancing in the breeze. It will be a little cold when they get there later in the day, but it will smell like fresh rain and grass. Soon it will also smell like them.
“Good morning,” Derek says. “Good morning.”