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Garden Variety

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Stiles has an old porch swing somewhere in his garage, he knows he does. His father had given it to him as a housewarming gift years before – he thinks it used to be his mother’s, has vague memories of rocking on it with her while she read him Robert Munsch and he sucked on grape popsicles.

He’d never really had much cause – or time or inclination – to indulge in porch swinging, but lately, Stiles has been feeling the urge. It’s unexplainable, maybe.

It only takes ten minutes to locate the thing, rusting and dusty and crammed in the back, behind a few old tires, a trunk he’d never bothered to unpack, old sports equipment, and a bike. It takes nearly an hour to dig it out, drag it into the back hard, and wrestle it up onto the deck.

Out of breath, dusty, and more than a little banged up, he’s nonetheless quite proud of himself as he shoves his patio furniture aside to make room, and then grabs the hose to wash away the cobwebs and dirt.

It’s not the prettiest swing, but the cushions are still intact, faded yellow lilies still visible against a creamy background, and he’s pretty sure it will be the perfect place to enjoy the sunny spring afternoons.

He goes inside, showers, fixes his hair, grabs a notebook and a pen, and checks the time. It’s 1:55 pm. Perfect timing.

He fixes himself a double scoop of cotton candy ice cream and heads outside to get some work done.

“Webster,” he calls, holding the door open. It only takes a moment for his dog, a hyperactive little shit of a miniature greyhound, to slide off the couch and scramble after him.

Stiles settles into the swing, opens his notebook to a fresh page, carefully writes ‘Outline’ at the top, and then looks around, enjoying the view.

At exactly 2 p.m., the neighbour’s back door crashes open and a whirlwind of toddler-sized energy comes barrelling out, all dark curls and bright eyes and a fiendish sort of glee t having survived naptime.

There’s a sandbox set up that the kid – a precocious little girl named Sienna – throws herself into, brandishing a plastic shovel like a sword with glee.

She’s followed by her dad and Stiles sits up a little straighter, absently running his tongue along the base of his ice cream cone where the ice cream has begun to melt.

Sienna’s dad’s name is Derek, and he’d begrudgingly accepted the store-bought strawberry pie Stiles had presented to him as a gift to welcome him to the neighbourhood only moments after the moving truck had departed two weeks ago. Stiles had barely managed to remember his own name, too tongue tied and distracted by Derek’s shoulders and his mouth and his ears and his nose and pretty much every bit of him that Stiles could see when he’d answered the door in a snuggly-looking sweater and a pair of worn-out jeans. But he remembered Derek, and little Sienna, who still sucked her thumb when she was sleepy.

Derek is hotter than the sun. He’s tall, broad-shouldered, muscly, and prone to doing lawn work in a tight t-shirt that hugs his abs and his pecs and barely manages to contain his biceps.

Not that Stiles has made a habit of staking out his neighbour’s back yard or anything. And he certainly hasn’t relocated his porch swing just to make it easier to watch – no, he just wants a nice, sunshiny place to relax, enjoy an ice cream or two, and work on his newest book.

The excellent view, that’s just a perk.

He’s pretty sure his dad would call purposefully installing a porch swing onto a raised deck to ogle the hot neighbour a form of stalking, anyway.

“Don’t eat the sand, Sia,” Derek says, glaring at her as she smiles innocently, as if her mouth isn’t already sticky with drool and sand. She makes a big show of dropping a shovel-full of sand through a strainer, though, so after a moment, Derek turns away and goes to the shed to get his tools.

Then he starts attacking the overgrown mess of a vegetable garden that the former owners of 34 Orchard Drive had let run wild for years.

Stiles sighs, slumps lower in his swing, and sucks a dribble of ice cream that’s run down over his fingers while Derek goes to work with a spade, hacking through peas gone wild.

He doesn’t even notice when Webster hops up and sneaks a taste of his ice cream cone.

*

“No, dude. He’s totally single.”

It’s Sunday night, dinner with Scott, Allison, and their two little terrors – boys who call him Uncle Stiles and like to scale him like little monkeys whenever he walks through the door – and Scott’s rolling his eyes while Allison hides a smirk behind her wine glass.

“He’s got a kid, you said. So, she probably has a mother.”

Stiles gestures with a forkful of salad and says, “Sienna, yeah! She’s about two, a total monster, Carter and Sebastian would love her, seriously. If the three of them ever got together, they’d be plotting world domination within like five minutes.”

“And yet you aren’t stalking him,” Allison says, with one arched eyebrow.

“No,” Stiles insists, pausing to swallow his salad. “I’m observant, it’s a genetic trade, my dad’s in law enforcement, you know. They’ve lived next door nearly three weeks and it’s just the two of them. No wife or mother or anybody.”

“You haven’t set up some sort of surveillance system, have you?” Scott asks, frowning suddenly. “If you did, I’m probably going to have to tell your dad.”

Stiles rolls his eyes. “All I’ve done is moved my workspace outside, to enjoy the fresh air with Webster. I can’t help it if my writing is sometimes interrupted by the shenanigans going on next door, Scott.”

“Speaking of shenanigans,” Allison interrupts smoothly, and Stiles groans. “There’s this girl at work, she wants to meet you.”

“That never works out! You know that never works out. How many girls have you tried introducing me to? Like six. And how many have ever turned into more than one awkward date? None. And that’s not even including those two dudes you met on the golf course who you decided would be perfect for me – who happened to be dating each other! Allison, c’mon. You know I love you both. But I don’t need you setting me up, not with anybody – especially a pair of gay golfers looking for a little spice in the bedroom.”

“They were hot though,” she says, pursing her lips thoughtfully. Scott kicks her under the table.

“Listen. Between your matchmaking and Scott tagging me in all those motivational Facebook posts and my dad’s concerns that I’ll never give him grandchildren, I know you’re all concerned. But I’m fine. Just me and Webster and peace and quiet.”

“You’re not lonely?” Scott asks skeptically.

Stiles rolls his eyes and lies through his teeth. “How can I be lonely when I see you practically every day?”

Allison opens her mouth to argue, but Carter and Sebastian tear through the living room with high-pitched war-cries, chasing a calico cat with rubber mallets above their heads.

It’s a convenient distraction as Allison shouts, “Don’t you hurt that cat!” and Scott cries, “If I have to take him to the office, I’m billing you both!” and they both scramble after their rabid children.

Stiles keeps munching on salad, because it’s pretty much dinner as usual at the McCall house.

*

Webster has anxiety. He twitches at loud noises, paces during times of stress (which includes anything from toys whose squeakers are too loud to the furniture being rearranged), and cries during thunder storms.

Stiles doesn’t mind, even though it sucks when Webster’s anxiety gets so bad that he pees himself behind the couch. But anxiety is something Stiles knows quite a bit about, so he tries to be understanding.

Digging seems to help Webster channel his nervous energy, and Stiles is okay with that too. It does mean his yard is a little torn up and muddy, but how much damage can one little greyhound cause, anyway?

So it’s possible that Stiles’ yard is a bit of a mess. More than likely, even. There are mounds of dirt that turn into mud when it rains, the grass is in desperate need of mowing, and Stiles does make an effort to clean up Webster’s shit every now and again, but he could probably do a better job of it.

As Derek’s yard slowly morphs from overgrown and unloved to something that’ll probably look like it belongs in a gardening magazine when he’s done, Stiles’ yard starts to look worse and worse.

That’s probably why Derek glares at him so much. So Stiles does the only thing he can think of to do, and begs Boyd to clean it up for him.

Boyd’s a ‘horticultural architect’. Basically a fancy landscaper. That’s what he does, right?

He even offers to pay him.

Boyd rolls his eyes and sends his 12 year old son Samuel over to mow his lawn for him and pick up dog shit. Stiles will take what he can get.

*

Stiles isn’t a total creeper. Sure, he makes a point of being outside on his deck every day when Sienna finishes her nap because Derek always takes her outside, even when it’s raining. But he does get work done, and by the time spring warms up into a beautiful summer, he’s got the outline of his next novel all drawn up and he’s flying through a rough draft of his new crime novel, featuring a single dad and his little girl in witness protection after it’s revealed that the little girl’s mother is up to her eyeballs in mob business. After the mom steps on the wrong syndicate’s toes, a hit’s called on her family to teach them a lesson, but they weren’t counting on Dad’s military past, how well he knows his way around a gun (or a knife or his fists or anything else that could potentially be a weapon), and the dad and child survive, entering witness protection to hide from future hits and the little girl’s mother, who’s kind of a psychopath.

Stiles is pretty excited about it, and his agent is too.

Scott says it’s more evidence that he’s obsessed with his neighbours, but Stiles has it on good authority that you’re supposed to write what you know, and what he knows is that his neighbours moved in without warning, don’t talk to anybody, stick to themselves, and that Derek has a murder face that would give even the highest level mobster pause.

So.

He gets a lot of work done in his afternoons outside, is what he’s saying.

And his yard may not be the prettiest, but it’s decent. Decent enough, in fact, that Stiles feels magnanimous enough to host an Independence Day Barbecue for all his happily married friends, their respective spouses, and their children.

He even agrees to let Allison and Lydia each bring over an eligible bachelor or bachelorette in their continued misguided attempts to cure him from his isolation and loneliness.

He’s hosting a barbecue. Like an adult. How isolated and lonely could he be?

He even buys Webster a festive sweater for the occasion, because nothing in his little greyhound’s extensive sweater collection looked just right for the occasion.

*

Carter and Sebastian are splashing in the little pool Stiles picked up at Walmart before the barbecue, Boyd is grilling burgers and hotdogs, Allison is trying to communicate with him using only her eyebrows as she chats with a cute girl she’d brought from work, and Scott, Isaac, Erica and Samuel are shrieking and chasing each other around with water guns. Stiles is just waiting for someone to find the massive tub of water balloons he had stashed under the deck, because, yeah, he’s an adult throwing an adult barbecue, but Stiles is also aware of the fact that you’re never too old for water guns and water balloons.

Lydia and Jackson are going to be fashionably late, as usual, and Stiles’ dad promised to drop by after his shift.

It’s a good day. Stiles sips his beer and pats Webster who’s on his lap hiding from the children. He should probably go finish up the salad or see if anyone needs another drink or – fuck it.

“Hold this, will you?” he says, passing Webster to Allison, rolls her eyes but takes Webster willingly enough, adjusting his stars and stripes sweater and letting the little dog hid his face under her arm.

“Stiles, if you have a minute, I wanted you to meet –”

He cuts her off with a wide grin and a sheepish wave at the amused-looking girl next to her. “Stiles. Hey. Nice to meet you. Maybe we can talk later? I need to –”

The girl laughs. It’s a nice sound – she’s got a nice face, too. “Lena,” she says. “Sure. You’re probably really busy.”

Stiles nods and smirks. “So much to do,” he agrees. “Salads to finish, drinks to pour, all that.”

And then he leaps over the patio railing, grabs the massive tub of water balloons, and takes off after Scott, who had poor Samuel pinned by the shed.

It’s chaos for a while, but water balloons are definitely a bigger threat than guns, so he’s pretty much dominating, until Isaac, the little shit, turns on the hose, and Stiles has to take shelter behind a tree as far from the house as he can get, pinned by the fence.

He’s trying to come up with a strategy, eyeing Isaac who’s standing in the middle of the yard shouting, “Fight me! C’mon!” but no one’s got the guts.

He’s got Carter and Sebastian with arms and legs wrapped around his shins, because the little monkeys clearly know when to surrender to the dark side to ensure their own survival.

“Cheating! You’re a bastard!” Stiles shouts, even if it means getting a lecture from Scott later for using inappropriate language in front of his kids.

“Hey!” Scott says, laughing. He’s crouching by the shed with Erica and Isaac. “Language.”

Stiles is about to flip him off when a small, lispy voice says, “Bad,” behind him. Behind the fence.

He spins around, back pressed to the bark, and sees a bright brown eye peering at him through the gap in the fence, little toddler fingers peeking through.

“Sienna,” he says, eyes wide, immediately standing on tip toes to see if her dad’s out there too. He’s not going to lie, before anybody else had arrived, he’d made sure to be in the backyard, waiting for the end of naptime, specifically to let Derek know that if he wanted to come over, that would be amazing, but for the first time, Derek and Sienna hadn’t showed.

Not that inviting Derek had been the primary reason he’d decided to host a barbecue, of course. He’s not a creep.

“Where’s your daddy?” he asks, when he doesn’t see Derek anywhere.

She ignores him, bouncing on her toes, little fingers reaching for the balloon in Stiles’ hand. Behind him, he can hear Samuel’s war cry as he launches an offensive, trying to get the hose away from Isaac, and Carter and Sebastian are shrieking, but Stiles doesn’t care much anymore.

“’Loon,” she says, pleading.

“It’s got water in it,” he tells her. “Your dad will be worried if he can’t—”

Predictably, before he can even finish, he hears Derek calling in the house, “Sia? Sia!”

Sienna gasps and then disappears, but she doesn’t run to her father the way Stiles expects. She hides instead, ducking behind Derek’s shed and wiggling as far in as she can get, muffling her giggles with one hand. Inside, Derek’s getting progressively more frantic.

“You little brat,” Stiles breaths, rolling his eyes. He’s noticed that Sienna seems to love giving her father heart attacks. “She’s out here!” he calls, and a moment later, Derek’s shoving the sliding door open.

His hair is standing up in crazy spikes, like he’s been running his fingers through it as he searched the house for his missing little girl, and he doesn’t really look like an ex-marine in witness protection on the run from the mob, but Stiles still finds it a little difficult to catch his breath.

He waves over the fence and Derek sees him, his mouth tightening into a scowl as he comes closer.

“Behind the shed,” Stiles says, and Derek rolls his eyes.

“She’s not supposed to be able to open the patio door yet,” he grumbles. “Sia! You’re going to hurt yourself, come out of there!”

He hauls her out carefully and dusts the dirt and wooden splinters off her little sundress while she beams at him and wraps her arms around his neck, and then Derek finally, reluctantly, looks over at Stiles.

“Thanks,” he says gruffly.

“No problem. It might be our fault. She probably heard us, and… we’re having a barbecue. It’s the Fourth of July.”

Derek gives him a look and Stiles winces because he can’t string a complete sentence together, and even when he manages, it’s something completely lame and obvious. “Yeah,” he says. “There was a petting zoo at the park for the kids.”

Which is where they were that afternoon. Right.

Maybe Stiles is a bit of a creeper.

“Uh, right. I heard about that. You guys can come over, if you want.”

Derek starts shaking his head and Stiles charges on, ignoring it.

“We have pools and water guns and later we’ll probably do stupid things like egg races and potato sack races and eat hamburgers and salad, if you’re a vegetarian, there are so many salads, and –”

Derek interrupts. “We don’t want to intrude. It’s –” he glances over, and Stiles has no doubt that everyone is staring as he has a conversation while hiding behind his tree with his hot neighbour who’s half behind his shed. “Family.”

“No family!” Stiles says quickly. “Only friends. You’re welcome. There’s lots of food. And – I wasn’t sure, if you had any plans, or – we get a great view of the fireworks and. You probably get that at your place too.”

Derek hesitates. Sienna is bouncing in his arms, making grabby hands at Stiles or maybe the water balloon in his hands, and behind him, Stiles can hear more laughter and water splashing.

After a moment, Derek sighs and says, “We can’t. Thanks though.”

It’s pretty disappointing, but Stiles flashes his most charming smile, hands Sienna a water balloon, and says, “Sure, okay. If you change your mind, come on over. Anytime.”

Derek nods but he’s still frowning and Stiles turns to go, retreating with dignity.

Sienna’s water balloon smacks him in the back of the head and explodes, soaking his hair and shoulders and running down his back, and she’s shrieking with laughter when Stiles turns back, eyes wide.

Derek looks appalled, apologetic and horrified all at once. “Sorry!” he says. “Jesus.”

Stiles grins and says, “Good aim,” and waves to Sienna and she blows him a clumsy kiss.

Kids love him – or love to torment him. Stiles is good with it. If only Sienna’s dad felt the same.

He gets soaked by Samuel with the water hose on his way back to the deck, but Stiles is okay with that too.

There are salads to be made and guests to be watered and he’s not feeling much like playing anymore.

*

The kids are dancing in the backyard with sparklers in their hands and their parents cuddling nearby when the fireworks start, and Stiles stands on the deck, sipping a beer. Lydia and Jackson had showed up with a guy from Lydia’s law firm, but he and Lena had both hit it off and slipped out earlier to go for a drink together, and Stiles was okay with that. Allison and Scott are standing by their boys, leaning on each other with their heads tipped up to the sky, Boyd and Erica are making out while Samuel does his best not to notice, Isaac is inside commiserating with Webster behind the couch, his dad had come by for a burger and then left to spend the evening with Melissa and Stiles is standing alone.

And he’s okay with it. Really.

“They did a great job on the fireworks this year,” he says quietly, and no one’s near enough to hear him, but that’s okay too.

The fireworks are half over when he hears the patio door slide open next door, and Stiles watches Derek step out, Sienna curled up in his arms, head resting on his shoulder sleepily. He can see their faces lit up in reflections of red and gold, and Derek is talking so softly that Stiles can’t hear what he’s saying. Sienna’s little arm comes up and points at the sky and she smiles and Derek does too and Stiles is so screwed.

He turns back to the sky but can’t help glancing over every now and again. During the grand finale, when the sky is bursting with red, white and blue, that he looks over again, until lights start fading away.

Derek catches him staring when he turns to take Sienna back inside, because of course he does, and Stiles is glad it’s so dark, Derek probably can’t see him wince. He offers a half-hearted, awkward wave, and after a long moment, Derek waves back, and so does Sienna, without lifting her head from her dad’s shoulder.

Derek goes back inside and Stiles finishes his beer and feels a little isolated, a little lonely, after all.

*

Stiles works inside the next day, and the day after that, and then he gets writer’s block so he stops working altogether and activates his Netflix account.

He’s halfway through catching up on Daredevil when the phone rings and he answers without looking because he just doesn’t care.

It’s possible he’s moping.

“Maybe I should try online dating,” he says.

“Uh, I heard Tinder’s good?” Scott replies, and Stiles can hear his frown. “You okay?”

“Fine. Identifying a little too much with Foggy.”

“Foggy. Right. That’s, uh—”

“Awkward-looking perpetual third wheel side kick with a decent grasp of sarcasm and a few pretty awesome one liners, but in desperate need of a haircut.”

“…Your hair looks fine,” Scott says. “You just need to calm down with the Netflix and get out among real people again.”

Scott’s probably right. “I see real people every day,” Stiles says, just to be difficult. “At the dog park. Webster’s got a girlfriend, did you know that? She’s a terrier.”

Scott ignores him. “Listen. I hate to ask, but Allison’s got to work last minute tonight, and I’m out of town with my mom, is there any chance at all that you’re free to babysit—”

“Sure I am,” Stiles says brightly, because Carter and Sebastian are amazing and Stiles likes to inspire them with as many practical jokes as he can before sending them home again. “We’ll have a sleep over. Movies, popcorn, pizza, bad ideas, the whole bit.”

*

The boys wake up before Stiles does and he wakes up to a permanent marker moustache because of it, but really, he brought that on himself. Allison takes them home early, apologizing profusely for the new facial hair and offering tips on how to scrub it off, but Stiles isn’t too worried about any of it.

He’s just about to turn Netflix back on when there’s a knock on the door and Webster goes nuts, barking his foolish head off.

So Stiles scoops him up and doesn’t remember the moustache until the door is swinging open, and then it’s too late and Derek is standing there with Sienna standing beside him, holding his hand.

There’s a flimsy, disposable aluminum pie plate in Derek’s other hand.

Derek blinks at Stiles’ face and looks speechless for a minute, and then his gaze falls from the moustache down to the dog wiggling nervously in Stiles’ arms.

“Your dog’s wearing a sweater,” Derek says blankly, and Stiles is glad. There were so many worse places to start.

“It helps his anxiety,” he says. “Scott says it’s something about the pressure.”

“Scott?” Derek asks.

“My friend. The vet.”

“Oh.”

Awkward silence. Stiles shifts on his feet. Derek looks amazing today – he’s wearing a button up shirt and his hair is all smoothed down and his jeans aren’t the beat up, tight ones he wears in the garden. His shoes are even shiny. Sienna’s dressed up too, in a cotton sundress and a floppy sun hat, with little sandals on her feet.

“Are you going somewhere?” Stiles asks, just as Derek awkwardly holds out the tin plate.

“This is yours,” he says.

Stiles stares, and then remembers that store bought pie, the welcome gift. He takes the plate, which anybody else would have thrown out, and says, “Oh, thanks.”

Derek nods and then looks like he’s about to turn to go. Instead, he says, voice stiff, “We’re going to my lawyer’s.”

Stiles blinks. “Oh. Uhm. Good luck,” he says.

Derek nods again and then steps back. “The pie was very good,” he says. “Thank you.”

Stiles nods, Derek nods, it’s all very awkward, and then they’re walking away and Stiles has nothing left to do but close the door.

He does, quietly, and then swears a whole lot, setting Webster down on the floor and goes to shower. And change. And find some way to scrub the moustache off his stupid face.

And maybe this afternoon, he’ll start working outside again.

*

Derek has apparently spent the first half of the week building a playhouse for Sienna. This is a problem.

It’s a problem because Derek looks even better with a hammer in his hand and a few nails between his lips, with sweat running down his neck and disappearing along his collarbones underneath his stupid shirt, than he had with dirty hands and a gardening hoe.

Not that Stiles notices that afternoon, as he reclines on his swing with his laptop forgotten on a table nearby and an ice cream cone in one hand.

He also doesn’t notice that he can see (if he were looking) Derek’s thighs straining the worn fabric of his tight jeans when he bends over or crouches to line up a piece of wood with the foundation he’s already constructed, or the way his biceps move when he reaches over with a level to make sure everything’s fitting together just right.

No. Stiles doesn’t notice any of that.

And if he’s a little breathless and flushed, it’s because it’s freaking hot out. It’s not that when Derek reaches up to hold a beam steady, his shirt rides up and his jeans are barely holding on to the sharp line of his hip bones and – holy shit, Stiles isn’t looking, he’s not.

He’s enjoying the sunny day and feverishly sucking melting ice cream from between his fingers and licking it off his wrist before he makes even more of a sticky mess than he has already. He’s not staring at his neighbour.

He’s not.

Weirdly, though, Derek doesn’t seem to be as good with a hammer as he was with a trowel, because he keeps hitting his thumb and cursing under his breath, sucking on it til the pain goes away.

And every time he does, Stiles licks at his ice cream a little more frantically, because it gets a little hotter.

And Derek curses even more. It’s a mystery.

*
Stiles runs out of ice cream, but he’s got a healthy supply of popsicles, so he adds ice cream to the grocery list and grabs a grape popsicle on his way out to the back yard. The playhouse is coming along so well, Stiles can’t help but be impressed. The walls are all up, all it needs now is a roof, porch stairs, and a little door.

Sienna is playing with blocks on a blanket across the yard, talking softly to herself, and Derek has his table saw out, measuring 2x4s and cutting them to the proper length for the stairs, Stiles is pretty sure.

He’s not wearing a shirt. It’s very distracting.

Stiles is watching, absently licking at his popsicle, and Derek switches to nailing the boards together with a nail gun. Stiles shakes himself. He’s got to finish this chapter – his witness protection father is about to confront the mobster mother, who’s been threatening to sue for custody, but he’s having trouble finding a babysitter. Stiles can’t afford distractions.

Stiles holds the popsicle in his mouth with a strategic use of suction and his tongue, and flips open his laptop, calling up the proper file and—

Is quickly distracted by all the cursing happening in Derek’s yard.

He looks over and finds Derek scowling fiercely, glaring at him, and Stiles blinks, taking the popsicle out of his mouth. “Sorry?” he calls. “Did you need – do you want a popsicle? I have lots.”

Because Derek is staring at his mouth. Which is probably stained purple, now that Stiles thinks about it. He wrinkles his nose and rubs at it with the back of his hand, and Derek turns away, still swearing.

And then he notices that blood is running down Derek’s hand in a thick river, splashing to the ground. Because there’s a fucking nail sticking out of his hand.

Derek turns away, grabs his discarded shirt, wraps it around his hand, all without pausing the steady stream of swearing.

“You’re bleeding,” Stiles says. Derek doesn’t look over. Instead, he goes to scoop up Sierra, and Stiles gets to his feet. “No, seriously, I’m pretty sure you need stitches, or at least a medical professional and a Tetanus shot, what did you do?”

Sienna sees the blood then and starts to cry, the sound quickly escalating to shrieks the longer Derek refuses to put her down.

“Derek,” Stiles says, feeling helpless.

“It’s fine,” Derek finally snaps. “I’ll deal with it. It’s fine.”

And then they disappear inside.

Stiles stands there for a long moment, not sure what to do, and then he calls Scott.

“Derek shot a nail through his hand with a nail gun and it’s bleeding all over,” he says.

“Ouch,” Scott replies. Stiles can hear dogs barking in the background and Scott is distracted for a minute, talking to someone else about antibiotics and catheters. Stiles is pretty sure those aren’t necessary for hand wounds. Then he comes back and says, “He needs a doctor. And a Tetanus shot.”

“That’s what I said!” Stiles says, pacing back inside the house. A few minutes later, he sees Derek outside, hand wrapped in clumsy gauze. He’s trying to balance a kid-sized backpack and get Sienna into his car, but she’s still panicking. Stiles closes his eyes and says, “I gotta go.”

He hangs up and goes outside, approaching cautiously, because angry Derek is pretty intimidating. “Hey,” he says quietly.

“Sorry,” Derek snaps. “Not the best time. I’m going to the damned hospital, so just let it go.”

Stiles wrinkles his nose and says, “Good. I’m glad. But if you want – I mean, I don’t think you know anybody else in town, so I could watch Sienna. If you want. I don’t mind.”

“It’s fine,” Derek growls.

“Well, it probably won’t be, at the hospital. If she’s this upset now, how’s she gonna be when they stitch it up?”

Derek closes his eyes, breathes for a moment, and Sienna is still shrieking and struggling to get free. “Okay,” he says finally. “Okay.”

He lets Sienna go and she scrambles out of the car, tear-streaked, red-faced, and panting. “No, daddy,” she says, before babbling about bandaids and owies.

“Sia,” Derek says, very gently, as he crouches beside her. “Daddy’s going to go to the doctor, okay? You stay here with Stiles –”

Derek knows his name, this is amazing.

“—and Daddy will be back later, okay?”

She hesitates, glancing at Stiles skeptically, and then sucks her thumb, nodding. Derek’s shoulders relax a little.

“Okay,” he says, before standing and looking uncertainly at Stiles. “Here’s her backpack, with her favourite toys, a few pull ups and a snack. My cell number’s written inside. Call if anything – she should be okay, but if she.” He closes his eyes again. He’s starting to bleed through the gauze, which is wrapped around the nail, and Stiles is gonna puke. “She’s allergic to strawberries,” Derek says helplessly. “And doesn’t like apple juice.”

“No strawberries, no apple juice. Got it. Do you need a ride?” Stiles asks, taking the backpack.

“No,” Derek says grimly. “Just make sure Sia’s okay.”

“I’ll text you so you have my number,” Stiles tells him, holding his hand out for Sienna. She takes it, because clearly they bonded on the Fourth of July.

Derek nods and gets into his car. “I’ll be back soon,” he promises again.

“We’ve got this,” Stiles says. “Good luck.”

Derek drives away and Sienna Stiles feels a little in over his head when Sienna starts to cry again.

*

It’s not so bad. Sienna is easily distracted, especially when Stiles fills up the little pool in the back yard for her and bribes her with popsicles. Soon enough, she’s happily splashing away while he nervously grills Scott for any and all toddler-raising tips. Scott’s up to his elbows in neuter surgeries, so he doesn’t have much to offer, but he tries his best.

It’s Webster who is the real hero of the day, though Webster generally dislikes children (though to be fair, Carter and Sebastian are the two he’s been introduced to so far, and both tend to be shrieky and loud, like little raptors).

But when Webster creeps out of his hiding place under the deck to see what all the fuss is about, Sienna spots him and throws both chubby arms into the air in excitement.

“Puppy!” she cries, and Stiles scoops Webster up before he can run off again.

“He’s scared of kids,” he says apologetically, but he still holds Webster as Sienna comes running over to see, because he knows Webster won’t bite. “Careful, don’t scare him,” he says to Sienna, who obediently slows down and starts tiptoeing like that will make a difference.

But Webster isn’t scared, is the thing. Usually, Webster would be trembling by now. But maybe having Sienna nearby for all these weeks has helped Webster grow used to her, gradually, so now, as she creeps closer and reaches out to pet him, instead of cringing, Webster tips his nose up to sniff at her hand and then licks her.

It’s a miracle.

It’s also possibly because she’s covered in grape popsicle.

But either way, Sienna giggles and Webster wags his tail and that’s all it takes. They’re friends, and Webster wiggles out of Stiles’ arms to follow Sienna back to the pool.

It’s not a complete personality overhaul, of course. Webster is still cautious, high strung, and wearing a purple paisley sweater. But Sienna splashes water at him and laughs and he leaps out of the way, tail wagging like it’s a game and not a form of psychological warfare.

It’s kind of a miracle.

*

Toddlers are exhausting, and when Derek knocks on the door late that night, Sienna is sleeping soundly on the couch with Webster curled up beside her, while Stiles mindlessly stares at the TV as Simba returns to reclaim the Pridelands.

“Hi,” Derek says, voice low, because it really is pretty late.

He’s got gauze wrapped around his hand but Stiles can see he still has all his fingers, at least.

“Hey,” he says. “Come in. Sienna’s asleep. How are you?”

Derek’s cheeks flush. “I’m okay,” he says, grimacing. “It wasn’t so bad.”

“A little clumsy with a nail gun, though.”

Derek shoots him a quick glare. “I got distracted,” he mumbles.

Stiles knows only too well how that feels. “She can stay, if you don’t want to wake her.”

“No, it’s okay. She doesn’t wake up when I carry her to bed.” He says it like it happens often, and the image of Derek carrying his baby girl to bed every night makes something in Stiles’ chest ache.

Derek slips the little strap of Sienna’s backpack over one shoulder and gently strokes Webster’s ear before scooping Sienna up. She mumbles and nuzzles against his shoulder but doesn’t wake.

“Thanks,” Derek says gruffly. “I can pay you. I can—”

Stiles shakes his head. “That’s – no, it’s fine. It was fine. Webster likes her. Webster doesn’t like anybody, so it was kind of amazing.”

“I don’t owe you because your dog likes her?” Derek asks softly, lifting an eyebrow.

Stiles shrugs, looking away. “I didn’t mind. I like helping out. Any time you need me.”

“We’ll be fine,” Derek says, stepping out onto the porch. “We’re always fine.”

“Except for today.”

Derek looks flustered, cheeks pink again. “Distracted,” he says, turning away. “Thanks again, Stiles.”

“Any time.”

Stiles watches Derek walk away.

He’s a total creep.

*

Derek is out there with the nail gun again the next afternoon, trying to balance it on his bandaged hand.

“No!” Stiles cries, as soon as he sees him. “Christ, Derek, no!”

Derek doesn’t look up. “I have to finish the roof,” he says. “It’s going to rain tomorrow, and the inside will get wet.”

“Your hand is all stitched and bandaged! What are you doing!”

It’s possible that he’s flailing a little, but the idea of Derek doing any more damage to himself is abhorrent.

“I’ll do it,” he says finally, desperately, as Derek slams another nail into the roof of the little house.

Derek finally looks over at him, blinking, and before he can argue, Stiles is off the patio and stalking to his gate. He opens it and then Derek’s gate right beside it, and storms over to the little play house.

Sienna cries, “Stiles!” and waves at him from the sandbox, and he waves back, but Derek just stares, dumbfounded, as Stiles takes the nail gun from his loose grip, hands him his fresh cotton candy cone, and climbs up onto the little roof.

“Hold that for me,” he grumbles. “You’re going to lose an arm at this rate.”

“Uh,” Derek says, and Stiles shoots him a glare and grabs a shingle, sliding it into position.

“I helped my dad reroof his house last summer,” Stiles tells him. “I can handle a playhouse. Just… don’t pick up anything heavy, Jesus. And eat the ice cream, it’s melting. God knows someone should enjoy it.

He nails the shingle down, and then another, before he catches Derek taking a small, skeptical lick of the bright pink and blue swirled cone. He follows it up with another lick, so it can’t be that bad, and Stiles grabs another shingle.

His new mission in life? To save Derek Hale from himself.

*

Roofing a playhouse doesn’t take long, and when he’s done, Stiles finishes up the set of stairs Derek had been working on for the little front door, which is already attached to its hinges.

When the stairs are done and in place, he steps back, pleased, and dusts his hands off. “Done,” he declares. “Right?”

Derek had finished the ice cream cone quite some time ago, but he’d found himself a lawn chair and grudgingly supervised Stiles’ efforts, hopping up to hover nervously while he used the table saw. Now, he frowns a little and squirms in his chair.

“What?” Stiles says, exasperated. “It’s a perfect play house. It’s got a window with working shutters, a door, a shingled roof, a porch step. What more do you need, a flower box for the window?”

Derek’s cheeks are pink, but he says, “I was going to make a mail box out of the scrap wood.” He pauses and then adds, “But a flower box would be nice. And it needs paint. Sia picked green.”

Stiles wants to make a comment about what kind of playhouse needed a mailbox or a flower box or real shingles on the roof, but given that Derek’s entire back yard looks like it fell out of Better Home and Gardens, he figures it’s probably a lost cause.

So he gets to work on the mailbox and the flower box and Derek offers some helpful and not-so-helpful suggestions, and by the end of the day, the house is done except for the paint, Derek hasn’t burst open his stitches, and Stiles got to spend nearly a whole afternoon within six feet of Derek, so he’s considering it a win. Even if his latest chapter didn’t get finished, and he didn’t get an ice cream cone.

*

Stiles generally sleeps late, mostly because he’s lazy, but a little because sometimes he gets a lot of work done on his writing after the sun goes down. His friends and family generally know how useless he is before 11, so they don’t bother him.

Which makes it especially weird when someone knocks on the door at 8 am.

Stiles staggers to the door shirtless, tugging up his pj bottoms as he goes, and rubbing at his hair, more than half asleep.

He opens the door mid-yawn and then stares, because he’s really got to install a peep hole or something so he can be better prepared for Derek’s random appearances on his front step. It’s been two weeks of cordial, neighbourly interaction since Stiles helped finish up the playhouse, and Stiles is perfectly happy with that. Derek is grudgingly friendly when they see each other, he even lets Sienna spend some time in Stiles’ back yard playing with Webster, and once, when he was out of milk, Stiles even had the balls to go knock on Derek’s door and ask to borrow a bit for his coffee. It was amazing. Derek had been out of milk too, but still.

And now this. A random appearance at 8 am.

Derek looks just as startled, his wide eyes quickly taking in Stiles’ bedhead, his pillow-lined face, his shirtless chest.

“It’s early,” he says, sounding stricken. “I woke you.”

Stiles wouldn’t mind being woken by Derek every morning for the rest of his life, so it’s so, so not a problem. He opens his mouth to say something along those lines (because it’s early and his brain-to-mouth filter is offline), but then he notices that Derek is dressed up in his lawyer visit clothes, and Sienna is still in her pjs.

Her face is flushed and her eyes are red and breathing sounds rough. She sniffles and looks generally miserable.

“Aww, Sienna,” Stiles says, crouching. “Poor girl. Are you sick?”

She nods and whimpers, rubbing at her eyes, and Derek says, “It’s a cold, and a bit of a fever. We were up all night. But she’s not puking or anything. Just sleepy and miserable and –” He looks at his watch, harried, and Stiles is just freaking charmed that he still wears a watch. “And I’ve got a custody hearing in forty minutes.” He looks at Stiles, beseeching.

“Dude, yeah, of course she can stay here.”

“Thank you, thank you so much,” Derek says, words all running together. “Usually she just hangs out with the assistant in the office, but she’s so miserable, I couldn’t make her do that. All she wants is her blankie and her teddy bear and Webster.”

“Webster?”

Derek shrugs, looking away. “Apparently Webster makes everything better?”

“He does,” Stiles agrees, reaching for Sienna, who’s cuddled up in Derek’s arms. She reaches out for him too, and Derek lets her go; she’s burning hot in his arms and nuzzles close, snuffling against his shoulder.

“Thank you,” Derek says again, looking lost.

“It’s no problem,” he says. “I promise. “

Derek sets her little backpack down in the entryway and says, “It’s got her teddy, her blankie, the Last Unicorn DVD, Pedialyte, Children’s Tylenol, a thermometer, some pullups, a few changes of clothes, my number, our doctor’s number, my sister’s number in Seattle, the number for poison control, and the address of the courthouse.”

“She’ll be okay, Derek,” he promises.

Derek lets out a tight breath, closes his eyes, and kisses her cheek. “I’ll be back soon, baby,” he whispers, and then he’s gone again.

Stiles watches him drive away, and then makes Sienna comfortable on the couch. Webster crawls out from behind the couch, sporting a nautical-themed blazer, and crawls under the blanket beside her.

And then Stiles calls Melissa to ask what the fuck a Pedialyte is, and how to keep a baby with a cold alive.

*

So, it’s not a cold. It’s pneumonia. Which sucks.

After Sienna’s temperature had spiked, Stiles had tried to get in touch with Derek, calling him multiple times and texting him as well, especially after Melissa had said he ought to bring her to the hospital, just in case, as her breathing got worse and so did her fever.

But Derek hadn’t replied, and Scott had come by with his car full of booster seats, and they’d rushed her off to the ER just in case.

Stiles had cracked and called the sister in Seattle on the way. The conversation went something like this:

“Uh, hi, is this, uhm, Laura?”

“Yes. Who’s this?”

“You don’t know me, but I’m Derek’s neighbour?”

“Stiles?”

“Uh, yeah. I’m watching Sienna while he’s at, uhm, court, and she’s sick, so we’re going to the hospital, because she’s having breathing trouble, but I can’t manage to get in touch with him, and he left your number, just in case.”

“I’m in Seattle, Stiles.”

“I know! But I don’t know what else to do!”

“You need to find him. He’s going to flip out, you need to find him now.

“I tried calling, but –”

“Can someone go to the courthouse?”

“… Yeah. I think – yes. Okay. Good idea.”

“Make sure he calls me, after it’s all sorted. Oh, and Stiles? Keep asking. He’ll come over eventually. But maybe not when there’s a crowd of people. He doesn’t do crowds.”

“Uhm. Okay.”

So here they are, at the hospital, Stiles and Sienna, alone in a little room. She’s sleeping and small and so pale, and she’s even got one of those freaking tubes in her nose and an IV in her arm and Stiles is the worst babysitter of all time.

But Stiles’ dad had promised to run by the courthouse and track Derek down, so there was that.

It doesn’t take long, actually, before the hospital door is flying open and Derek is there, looking panicked.

Stiles hops out of his chair. “I’m sorry,” he says quickly. “Sorry, sorry, I didn’t mean to—”

Derek ignores him, stealing his chair and sitting as close to Sienna’s bedside as he can, taking her hand. “I’m here, Sia, baby, I’m so sorry, I won’t leave you again, I promise.”

“I’m sorry,” Stiles says again, a hoarse whisper. He wants to cry, has been wanting to cry since they got here, but he’s managed to resist so far. Derek is nearly as pale as Sienna, though, and that’s doing things to Stiles’ heart.

Derek finally looks up at him, blinking. “What?” he says, like he’s only just noticed Stiles is there. “Hey. No. This is not your fault. I shouldn’t have left her, I didn’t realize she was this sick.”

Stiles shakes his head. “Melissa – the nurse, Scott’s mom – she says it can come on suddenly and just looks like a cold, most of the time. You couldn’t have known. I didn’t know, I only called her because I didn’t know what Pedialyte was. I tried to call you. I’m sorry.”

“We were in front of the judge,” Derek says, smoothing Sienna’s hair back. “We just finishing when your dad found me.”

Stiles wants to ask a million questions – like what the custody thing was about, and who Sienna’s mother was, and why, if she was there when Stiles’ dad told Derek about Sienna being in the hospital, she hadn’t come too, but he resisted and after a moment, said, “The doctor said she just needs the IV for antibiotics and fluids, and the tube is just to lift her oxygen levels. She won’t be here for too long.”

Derek nods and Stiles isn’t sure what he should do, so he backs towards the door. “Oh,” Derek says suddenly. “You probably had so much to do today, I’m sorry.”

But Derek looks so small and lost next to the hospital bed.

“I could stay, for a while, if you want. Introduce you to Melissa. She can tell you more.”

Derek looks relieved, but all he offers is a shrug. Stiles will take what he can get, though, so he drags another chair over and sits beside him.

They talk quietly, about all sorts of things that don’t matter – dog grooming and sports scores and the weather – and Derek eventually falls silent with his chin resting on his folded arms on the side of the bed.

Stiles should go. Stiles should leave Derek in peace, he should get some work done on his book, he should –

“I think I’m going to win the case,” Derek says quietly.

Stiles forgets about everything he should be doing and tugs his chair closer. “The custody thing?”

Derek closes his eyes and, after a moment, nods. “Judges historically like to side with the mother,” he says. His voice is a little hoarse. “So it took some work to prove that Jennifer’s not… that it wouldn’t be in Sienna’s best interest.

“Is that – is she –” Stiles doesn’t know what to do or what to say, and he reaches out to touch Derek’s shoulder, but lets his hand fall before he does.

“She doesn’t want Sia,” Derek confesses. “She never did. When she left us, it was the best thing she could do. She doesn’t want anything to do with us anymore. But she’s Sia’s mom, how could anybody not want...”

Derek’s face is drawn, exhausted. There are dark circles under his eyes. His jaw clenches and he doesn’t look up from Sienna’s face, smoothing her hair back.

“Why is she after custody if she doesn’t want anything to do with her?” Stiles asks, after a moment. He’s already planning what he’ll say to his dad, when he calls him up and demands the sheriff dig up some sort of dirt on Sienna’s mother to prove that she’s unfit.

“She doesn’t want custody,” Derek says. “It’s a threat. She’s going to take Sienna away unless…” He shrugs. “I have a lot of money. I don’t need to work. There was a fire, when I was a kid, and my family – except for Laura. They all died. There was a lot of money. And Jennifer wants it. And if I give her what she wants, she’ll drop the case.”

“That’s blackmail.”

Derek shrugs. “It doesn’t matter. We’re going to win. And Jennifer can finally stop her threats and go away. And we can finally stay somewhere, and build a life, and Sia can have everything she deserves – a perfect house and a perfect yard and family and friends and a dog and she won’t have to be scared anymore.”

Stiles thinks about the hours Derek spent cultivating the perfect yard in the suburbs, and then building a dream playhouse in it, with a mailbox and a flower box. He thinks about Sienna’s instant bond with Webster, and he thinks about how wary Derek is, of crowds and of strangers and of trusting anybody. And he thinks of Derek letting down those defenses, letting people in, putting down roots, for his little girl, and Stiles can’t help but wonder if maybe there’s room in this perfect, domestic fairytale for an awkward, enthusiastic crime novelist who can’t be bothered to mow his own damned grass.

Stiles sighs and slumps in his chair, dropping his head back to stare at the ceiling. He’s so entirely fucked.

*

With deadlines looming, Stiles actually needs to buckle down and get to work, and the rainy weather lingers for a few days, so he doesn’t try working outside. Derek and Sienna have holed up inside their house anyway, probably on doctor’s orders for rest and recuperation, and Stiles really does have a book to finish.

So he barricades himself in his house, stocked up with chips, coffee, beer and all the fixings for pastrami sandwiches, and writes for hours and hours. He doesn’t shower, he barely sleeps, he doesn’t allow himself to think of anything except word counts, plot devices, and Lachlan Kane’s quest for vengeance.

His dad stops by with curly fries and cheese burgers a few times, but other than that, the days slip by with greasy efficiency.

And then he’s finally finished, the file is finally sent to his editor, and he crashes, face down, smelly, in desperate need of a clean pair of pajamas.

He sleeps like the dead.

When Stiles wakes up, it’s with no idea how long it’s been since he left his house, and because his phone is chiming happily from its place half under his bed. It’s Scott.

He answers sluggishly, rubbing at his eyes and trying to coax his throat into remembering how to speak.

“What day is it?”

“Saturday?” Scott says brightly. “Just checking for proof of life. How’s the book going?”

“Done, til edits. Saturday?” He winces, rubbing at his face. “I stink.”

“Have a shower. Listen, the reason I’m calling. See. I got a weird phone call?”

“Uh huh.” He’s half listening, rooting around in his drawers for clean underwear.

“From Laura?”

Stiles blinks. “Derek’s sister?”

“Apparently Derek had mentioned a ‘Scott the veterinarian,’ and I’m the only one in town. So when you abruptly disappeared off the face of the planet and broke her brother’s heart, she looked me up to make sure you aren’t actually a dick.”

Stiles’ eyes are very wide. “What did you say?”

“That you can be, sometimes.”

“Scott!”

Scott laughs. “That you’ve been obsessing over your hot neighbour since he moved in, that you’re not actively a dick if you can help it, that you’re a best-selling novelist with a deadline you’ve been ignoring to help shingle playhouses and babysit the neighbour’s kid.”

Stiles winces, but it’s all true, so he can’t really muster up the energy to be mad. Finally, warily, he says, “Broke his heart?”

“Apparently he’s secretly a marshmallow with trust issues.”

“Aren’t we all,” Stiles says absently, peeking out the window towards Derek’s house. The garden is looking wilted and sad, and Stiles wonders if it’s because there has been too much rain, or because he’s projecting.

“I’m hosting a barbecue,” he declares, interrupting Scott’s commentary on the likelihood of everyone being a secret marshmallow.

“When?”

“Today.”

“Dude, I can’t make that, it’s such short notice! Ally’s dad has baseball and she promised him we’d bring the kids, and –”

“It’s all good,” Stiles says. “You weren’t invited.”

After all, Derek doesn’t like crowds.

*

He makes it casual. Low key. He buys the hotdogs and the hamburgers, fills the freezer with popsicles, cleans up the dog shit in the yard, fills up the kid pool, throws together a garden salad, begs Melissa to make him a potato salad, and then wanders over to Derek’s front door, holding Webster, whose wearing a deliberately-casual t-shirt that says ‘rub my belly for good luck.’ Stiles feels like he needs all the good luck he can get.

It takes a long minute before Derek answers, and when he does, he looks wary.

“Hey,” he says, and then Sienna is peeking around his leg and waving shyly up at Stiles.

Stiles smiles brightly. “Hi! Sienna, you’re all better! I would have come by earlier, but I was super busy with work!” He puts Webster down, because Webster is wiggling like crazy, and the dog throws himself shamelessly to the ground at Sienna’s feet, rolling onto his back to beg for belly rubs.

Stiles is feeling like he has just about the same amount of dignity right now.

“She’s doing great,” Derek says. His voice sounds a little stiff. “Thanks.”

“Great! So, uh. Webster and I wanted to know if you and Sienna wanted to come over tonight. It’s finally stopped raining, so I thought a barbecue would be nice, and –”

“We can’t,” Derek says. “Sorry.”

Stiles blinks. He spares a quick thought for the sheer number of hamburgers and hotdogs he brought and realizes that he might have been a little overconfident here. “Oh,” he says, stuttering over the word a little. His smile falters. “Of course. Sorry. I just thought…”

Derek frowns and looks away, rubbing at the back of his neck. “I don’t – Sienna doesn’t do well with strangers. With a lot of strangers.”

Stiles blinks and then his eyes go a little wide and he says, “Oh! No, no one else. Just you. Uh, I mean, just me, and Webster, and you and Sienna. If you want. I have grape popsicles? And hamburgers?” He tries to smile hopefully and isn’t sure he’s doing a convincing job of it, but Derek’s gaze sort of catch on Stiles’ mouth and stays there for a while, so maybe it’s working.

“I don’t…” Derek trails off.

“Please.”

Derek looks down at Sienna, who’s rolling around on the floor with Webster, and then sighs. “Yeah,” he says finally. “Alright. That sounds, uh. Nice.”

It will be, Stiles knows. He will make sure of it.

*

Sienna is splashing in the pool and Webster is happily hopping around, barking and actually playing fetch when she throws tennis balls for him.

Webster never plays fetch with Stiles. Not that he’s jealous.

He’s standing at the barbecue, trying not to let anything burn, while really just staring dreamily at Derek, who’s hovering nervously two feet away from Sienna to catch her if she falls.

It’s fucking adorable.

Sure, he’d pictured the barbecue going a little different – with Derek standing closer, sipping a beer, talking awkwardly about grown up things, but he’d forgotten to accommodate Sienna into things, and he doesn’t actually mind. He’s more than willing to change all his plans around to accommodate Derek’s little girl.

He’s even willing to share his dog.

Dinner is mostly not burned, Melissa’s potato salad is a hit, and Sienna is tired out from running around the back yard splashing in the pool, dancing with Webster, and making her dad give her pony rides.

So she curls up on the cozy lounge chair beside the swing under a light blanket, Webster snuggled up beside her, and falls asleep as the sun goes down.

It’s quiet and awkward, but not the painful kind of awkward. Just the kind where Stiles doesn’t know how to break the silence now that talking about Dora the Explorer and Paw Patrol aren’t really on the table.

So he sips his beer and Derek sips his beer and the sky gets darker, and Stiles finally says, “Your yard makes my yard look like crap.”

Derek laughs quietly and doesn’t disagree. “For all the time you spend out here, you definitely don’t mow that often,” he says.

Stiles gasps in outrage and shoves him. His arm is pretty much rock hard under Stiles’ hand, and he lets his touch linger a tiny bit too long because it’s nice and Derek is warm and he’s basically petting Derek’s bicep and Stiles is a creep.

He snatches his hand back with a wince because he’s so bad at being smooth, but he sees Derek hide a smile behind another sip of beer, so maybe it’s okay.

“I was a little distracted,” he says, feeling a bit brave.

“Oh, yeah?” Derek smiles, just a tiny quirk at the corner of his mouth. “By what?”

Stiles waves a hand a little wildly, gesturing broadly to pretty much all of Derek. “You?” he says. His voice squeaks, but he manfully ignores it. “With the hoeing and the mowing and the planting your seeds and the hammering and nailing and –” He’s not actually trying to make it sound like garden-variety porn. But he keeps talking, trying to make it sound less dirty, and it isn’t working, so he gives up with another wince.

Derek laughs and Stiles covers his face and wails, “Everything I say comes out dirty.”

“If it makes you feel any better, I’ve developed a pretty strong craving for ice cream lately,” Derek says, all casual. “And grape popsicles. And I’m not actually that clumsy with a nail gun.”

Stiles feels his face light up, and he’s grinning stupidly at Derek and he doesn’t even care. “Awesome,” he says. “Except for the whole Tetanus shot and the blood loss and the stitches.”

Derek rolls his eyes and there’s silence again, but softer this time, and then Derek asks, carefully, “So, this is a date, then?”

Stiles clears his throat. “Maybe?”

He glances at Derek to see what he thinks of that, and Derek’s head is ducked down but he’s smiling a little to himself, and then he says, “Okay. I was going to ask you to dinner, if it wasn’t.”

“Yeah?” This feels like Christmas. Stiles beams and says, “Ask me anyway.”

Derek rolls his eyes and says, “Do you want to maybe go to dinner some time?”

“Sure! I’ll check my calendar! Does Sienna like hamburgers? Pasta? I know an awesome Mexican place!”

Any other suggestions he might make are instantly forgotten when Derek kisses him, one hand sliding roughly into Stiles’ hair, tugging him close. It’s not the awkward, shy first kiss Stiles had sort of half planned on. It’s much, much more, and so sudden that Stiles isn’t aware of much more than Derek’s mouth, hot on his, and his tongue, and a tiny hint of teeth, and if Derek’s hand hadn’t been there, tangled up in his hair and pretty much holding him up, he’d probably have fallen over in shock. As it was, all he basically had time to do was open his mouth for him and kind of whimper a little.

Derek pulls back just a little, his forehead resting on Stiles’, and he says, “Sorry. Uh. Not used to people including Sienna in our dinner plans.”

The little bit of Stiles that hadn’t melted yet chooses now to do so, and he braces both palms on Derek’s chest and says, “Of course she’s welcome. I would never expect… besides, look what happened last time you left her with a babysitter, she ended up in the hospital, and—”

Derek interrupts, quiet, and asks, “Maybe – maybe your friend Scott could watch her, sometimes?”

Stiles blinks, eyes wide. Derek had said he wanted to start letting people in, had said he wanted a real life here, but Stiles hadn’t dared to hope that he’d be part of whatever idealized life Derek had dreamed up for himself and Sienna.

“You want to meet Scott?” he breathes. “Yes, he would so watch her, he’s the best, and he owes me so much babysitting, his children are menaces, Sienna will love them.”

Derek kisses him again. Derek totally wants to meet Stiles’ family – eventually. Stiles can tell. Maybe one at a time. But Stiles is totally, totally good with holding his hand all through it – and helping him pick out a good preschool and helping Sienna with her homework if she wants him to and reading her bed time stories and adopting a puppy with Derek and Sienna and falling asleep with Derek and grocery shopping with Derek and dinner dates with Derek and – holy shit, whose house would they even live in if they ever lived together? Who is he kidding, probably Derek’s, Derek’s house is amazing already and Stiles’ looks like the backyard of a frat house. But the point of the matter is that if Derek wants help learning how to put down some roots…

Stiles may be a shitty gardener, but he’s totally willing to learn.