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- II -

Derek wakes up with the gone-scent of Stiles's skin around him, pressed into the sheets, even though Stiles is no longer here. ("Gotta head back, Derek. Family night, y'know?") Family night. Stiles and his father. ("Be back tomorrow.") Which means today.

His claws sharpen as he runs them over the bed, as if that'll pull Stiles's scent closer to the surface, somehow, instead of this distant sweet-warm thing, lingering like a taste in the back of his throat.

"Grr," says Jar, from the crib on the other side of the room. He's been awake for a while, now, all rustling movements and subvocal growls, obviously restless with Stiles gone.

So they have this in common.

Derek rolls out of bed, drops into a couple of push-ups to get his blood flowing, and then rolls face-up again, into a set of crunches that start a pleasant ache in his abdomen - an ache too swift to fade, thanks to his being what he is.

There's no voice snarking at him or calling him 'Rambo,' no slowly-heating scent of arousal that simmers and shimmers in the thickening air.

Stiles likes watching him work out. Stiles likes -

- spending time with his father.

Not in the same way, of course, but the sheriff really should be accepted into the pack. Officially. Because then, maybe Derek will stop feeling so illogically betrayed, as though Stiles still belongs to another pack, still needs -

"Grr-rrr-rr," says Jar, at length, apparently sharing Derek's sentiments. "Ti."

"Stiles isn't here," Derek grunts as he finishes his workout and pads over to the crib. He looks down at Jar, hair sleep-tousled and fur rubbed the wrong way along his arms and legs, because he's been tossing and turning so much. The kid's a calm sleeper, usually. But usually, Stiles is here.

"Dah," Jar scowls, as if seeing Derek first thing in the morning is a massive disappointment. It's no secret who Jar's preferred parent is.

"Yeah, well, I prefer him, too," Derek snaps, nettled, and then wonders if he should feel guilty for saying that to a baby.

Too bad. He doesn't feel guilty, at all.

Jar narrows his eyes in a startlingly perceptive expression, and sinks his half-grown fangs into the plush orange dinosaur that doubles as his chew-toy and 'sleep buddy'. (Stiles's phrase.)

"You'll take its head off," Derek cautions, but Jar just shoots him this rebellious look that doesn't bode well for his teenage years, and keeps on chewing Blahney. (Again, Stiles's name.)

Derek has no idea where the angelic werepup goes to, when Stiles isn't around. Is it possible for babies to have split personalities? None of Stiles's parenting guides seem to think so. There's some stuff in there about 'mirroring' that Stiles pointedly talks about, but Stiles doesn't know anything. Except perhaps everything. It's a phenomenon that Derek is determined to ignore.

The mobile phone chimes on the dresser. It's Stiles, with a text that reads: Changing time!

I know, Derek replies, and shoves the phone into his back pocket. The stench of urine through cotton-and-polyester tells him it's changing time a hell of a lot more clearly than anything Stiles could ever say.

Jar gazes up at him expectantly, wriggling back and forth on his mattress while methodically beheading Blahney. His eyes are getting dangerously wet, which means he also knows it's changing time, and if he isn't changed quickly enough, he's going to lodge a complaint about it. Loudly.

Derek takes a deep breath - correction, he aborts a deep breath - and lifts the kid out of his crib.

Jar yowls. Right in Derek's ear. The sound goes straight through Derek's skull like a spear, and Derek staggers slightly on his way to the changing-table.

Great. None of the others are here, either, for him to pawn this off on. Lydia's always hanging around, these days, because she's stopped pretending not to be a genius and has graduated early, and is basically just waiting for her acceptance letters (gushing invitations, she insists) from every single college in the Ivy League, but she's in LA for some sort of Physics conference, this week.

Scott and Jackson are at school. Like Stiles.

So it's just Derek and Jar.

And changing time.

The day passes with more diaper changes and multiple rounds of pulpy food, with completely superfluous text messages from Stiles, checking up on everything, like Derek isn't the Alpha of an entire pack but a desperately incompetent nanny.

"He's fine," Derek growls, when Stiles finally breaks down and calls at noon. "He's done eating."

Jar perks up at the sound of Stiles's voice, ears flicking up as he makes grabbing motions toward the phone.

Derek ignores him.

"Was it the chicken? Tell me it was the chicken."

"The chicken. With the vegetables."

"How much did he spit back out?"

"What, are you looking for percentages?"

"Yeah, I'm looking for percentages, Einstein. How. Much?"

"The full-stops don't work when you do them."

"The full-stops of menace totally work when I do them, because you're going to tell me how. Much. He. Spit. Out."

"Most of it."

"Most, as in, fifty-five percent? Or seventy-five percent?"

This is getting ridiculous. "Closer to seventy-five."

"Oh, shi - uh. I can't swear where he can hear me, right? And he can hear me."

"He wants the phone."

"What're you waiting for, then? Give him the phone."

"Stiles - "

"Derek. I want to talk to him."

"He'll start crying when you hang up."

"Cra - bs."

"Crabs?" Derek can't help the twitch at the corner of is mouth. "Is there something I should know about, Stiles?"

Stiles chokes. "N-no. I just - I didn't want to swear in front of - "

"Ti!" Jar's face is flushed with agitation. Shit. He's going to start crying. "Ti-Da!'

"Fine, here, take it," Derek says, not at all hurriedly - an Alpha hurrying at the behest of an infant would be insane - and hands the phone over to Jar.

Who snatches at it and immediately starts babbling, consonants and vowels and semi-purrs running together in an incomprehensible blur. The need in them isn't incomprehensible, though.

"Hi, sugar-rush. You doin' fine?" Stiles's voice softens, and it only softens that way with Derek when Stiles has had an orgasm or has just woken up in the mornings. "You gotta eat, sweetheart. Don't want Daddy to worry about you, do you?"


"That's right. Derek isn't being mean to you, is he?"

"Hey!" Derek yanks the phone back, and Jar hiccups a sob.


"You're going to have to hang up soon, anyway. You've got class."

"Give it back to him."

"But - "

"Give. It. Back."

Derek gives it back.

And paces, uselessly, as Stiles talks to Jar when he could be talking to -

"Okay, Jar, I have to go," says Stiles, at last. "Give the phone back to Derek?"

Derek pounces at it - and the ensuing struggle with Jar is one for the history books, not because of the epic bloodshed, but because it's the only battle Derek has ever fought that doesn't permit him to use brute strength. In the end, he only manages to get the phone after Jar's claws have taken out a button. Another button.

"Which one was it, this time?" Stiles sighs, when Derek secures the phone and leaves Jar blubbering helplessly in the background, eyes glowing green and fangs out.

"The 9."

"So your phone no longer has a 4 or a 9."

Derek shrugs. "I'll get another phone."

"Damn. That's, like, the third phone."

"It's the one baby," Derek points out, and there's a brief silence from the other end.

"I love you," Stiles says, in that way he has of launching completely devastating emotional ambushes.

"I." Derek's skin is suddenly several degrees hotter than it was before. His heart-rate picks up; smells and sounds become sharper. He swears he can feel the shape of Stiles's body on the other end of the line, just by the way the air moves around it. He can hear the air moving around it. "That."

"Ha! Did I give you another feedback loop, Derek-droid? Sorry." Then, there's the click of heeled shoes, and Stiles says: "Whoops, see ya later! Mrs. Gershwin's just about ready to blow a fuse."

And he hangs up.

Derek stands there, stock-still, literally unable to let go of the phone.

The light's painfully bright. He has to wait for his pupils to return to their normal, non-dilated size. When they do, he blinks and returns the phone to his pocket. He notices how quiet it is; Jar's stopped crying, and is instead staring at Derek, transfixed, eyes wide with wonder.

Tear-tracks are still glistening on his face, though, so Derek wipes them away before slinging Jar over his shoulder.

"He just doesn't understand, does he?" Derek murmurs. "He can't understand."

"Mrrr," Jar agrees, just as hushed.

Derek carries him into the bathroom for his bath. Instead of using the baby-bath, Derek gets into the tub himself, after filling it up with warm water and leaving his clothes on the floor. Jar huddles against his chest, head against Derek's shoulder and bottom held carefully in Derek's palm, making cooing noises into Derek's neck.

Looks like the plan's working; the bath's distracted Jar from Stiles's absence, at least for the time being.

Derek's eyelids grow heavy in the warmth, fingers stroking idly through Jar's fur. It waves in the water, velvet-thick and smooth. Jar's feet make occasional, playful splashes, but eventually, they settle down, too.

Jar's falling asleep. His pulse is slowing to match Derek's. His toes curl and uncurl lazily, causing little ripples in the water.

Another three hours before school's out. Derek will do the usual, until then - go online to check on the Hale stocks, contact his broker in New York, shuffle his funds away from the sinkhole that is currently Silicon Valley and keep an eye on Jar, heating up the pureed lamb for Jar's next meal. (It's in the chart Stiles has printed out and stuck to the fridge with a banana-shaped magnet, detailing every meal and its nutritional value. The lamb's good for iron.) He goes over graphs and figures in his head, keeping his fingers moving on Jar, lulling him deeper into sleep.

Derek will climb out of the bath before it gets too cold for Jar, but there's no harm in staying here for a while longer, burying his nose in Jar's wet hair, surrounding himself in Stiles's scent, because Jar always smells like Stiles.