The familiar chlorine-sunscreen-warm pavement smell of Riverwood Water Park is a strange comfort as Stiles walks toward the staff locker room; nostalgia and fond memories always rushed through Stiles when he was at the park. The fact that this would--hopefully--be his last summer working there was both sad and exciting.
It wouldn’t be easy saying goodbye to the place he’d visited so often with his mom and dad as a kid, the place where he had worked every summer since he was sixteen. Manning Pirate Cove, a scale model of a pirate ship designed for younger children, with slides where canons would be found and a swirling sprayer that moved with the ship’s wheel, had become his favorite summertime distraction. The enthusiasm and joy that little kids unabashedly threw into splashing each other and climbing and fun made Stiles feel joyous by proxy.
Closing his locker in the staff showers, he allowed himself to feel a little melancholy. Graduating and moving on to grad school that was no closer to his dad or his friends was hard. He’d always half planned on coming back to California, but he’d had to wave adios to that plan when a full scholarship offer came in for a program in Colorado.
It was going to be hard to have say goodbye to his coworkers, too. Some of them had been working with him since he started, and they’d grown up together, one summer at a time. They’d shared cookouts and after work meals, then after work drinks and dancing as they became old enough for it. End of season parties, bonfire hookups, summer flings.
The thought of leaving Erica and Boyd especially filled him with disappointment; they’d been spending their summers together for the last five seasons, and they’d had more than a handful of those s’mores and summer heat-flavored nights. Now, they were the best of friends, speaking often even when Stiles was on the other side of the country and longing for summer and open-skied nights in his adequate but lonely student apartment.
That he would not miss. Even with the personal touches he’d managed to add, a half-sized kitchen, a shower with the water pressure of a jammed squirt gun, and barely enough room for a two-seater couch and a desk with a rolling chair never felt much like home.
Summers at Riverwood, though, that was definitely part of home for him. Permanent chlorine scent, shrieking kids, and all.
What wasn’t normal though, was a crying child. Yet, just inside the gate where he entered Pirate Cove, there was a young girl--around five if Stiles had to guess--rubbing the back of her hand over her eyes, fruitlessly trying to stop the tears spilling from her green and gold eyes. Her long dark hair was escaping from the tight braid she wore, and she clutched at her brightly striped towel like a lifeline.
Stiles pasted on his friendliest, most reassuring smile and stooped down so he was at her eye level. “Hi, sweetheart, my name is Stiles. Is there something that I can help you with? I work here, so if you’re lost, or if something happened that upset you, I can help.”
When she looked up at him, her lip was wobbling and she was taking big, shuddering breaths, but she was obviously trying to get herself to calm down; Stiles was impressed with her control.
“I was pl-playing in the wave pool, an’ then I thought I saw a bunny by the fe-fence, so I went t’ see it, but it was go-one !” she sobbed, getting more upset as she went on. “Then I got lost, and now I can’t find my-my-m-” she started crying again, too much now to finish her sentence, so Stiles put a cautious hand on her shoulder.
“Hey, that is something I can definitely fix,” he said, letting a little enthusiasm into his voice in the hopes that his confidence would reassure her. “Can you tell me your name?”
She sniffed, but gave him a wobbly smile and answered “Tali.”
“Well, Tali,” he said, returning her smile, “Do you think you could hold my hand so we can stick together on the way back to the wave pool?” At her nod, he stood up, and offered his hand. Hers felt so small in his that he had a moment of panic at being responsible for someone so little . Then reality settled over him and his years of experience with kids kicked in as he rolled his eyes at himself.
On the way past Pirate Cove, Stiles waved to get Boyd’s attention, glad it was his friend in the lifeguard seat so he could be assured that the kids playing in the Cove would be safe for a few minutes while he returned Tali to her family (the new kid, Liam, he wasn’t so sure about yet; he barely looked old enough to drive, let alone be responsible for children). “Hey, Boyd! I just have to take my friend Tali back to the wave pool. Be right back!”
Boyd waved back, nodding that he’d heard him, and Stiles turned back to Tali, looking down at her with another smile as they restarted their short trek to the wave pool. “Okay, kiddo?” he asks gently.
“Yeah. But. Did you mean it when you said we were friends?” The sincerity in her voice makes Stiles heart break a little. This kid is just too… something.
“Of course I did! As long as you’re okay with having a friend who still reads comic books and believes in magic,” he replied with just as much sincerity. Those things were true, but in his experience, kids are more comfortable with adults they can relate to a little.
Tali’s eyes go wide and she smiles brightly. “You like comics! Who’s your favorite superhero? Do you like Spider-Man? Do you like werewolves ?! How about fairies, do you believe in fairies? I like Tinkerbell, ’cause she builds cool stuff, but she’s a pixie, which is only kind of a fairy.”
Stiles couldn’t help but chuckle; it wasn’t often that he met someone who could talk as much as he did. They were almost to the wave pool, and Stiles started looking for a family with dark hair and a frantic expressions.
“Spider-Man is pretty great, but Batman is my favorite, and he’s kinda like Tinkerbell, right? He invents lots of stuff. Though he’s definitely not a pixie! I think werewolves are awesome, though, it’d be so cool to meet a werewolf, don’t ya think?”
Tali laughed, and it was the best thing Stiles had heard all morning; he couldn’t stand to see kids crying. “Batman would look silly dressed like Tinkerbell!”
“Ha! Yeah he would! Hey Tali? Do you remember where you were-” before Stiles could finish asking, the most attractive man Stiles had ever seen was rushing towards them, calling Tali’s name.
Tali let go of his hand and launched herself into the man’s open arms, a muffled cry of “Da-” disappearing into a strong shoulder. Stiles couldn’t help but notice the flex of the muscles in the guy’s tanned arms, or the dusting of dark hair that seemed to have been placed just-so by an artist on every perfect inch of him.
“Where have you been, peanut? I was so scared when I couldn’t find you!” The man’s voice is surprisingly soft, and he’s rocking Tali back and forth slightly as he cradles her against him. It’s almost too much for Stiles to bear watching, and it makes his heart beat out of sync; a strange and overwhelming sense of want settles in his belly, but he isn’t sure what it is for.
Tali begins to explain about the bunny again, a slight tremble in her voice as she pulls away from the man’s shoulder, small hands resting on either side of the guy’s neck. Her voice gets less wobbly and more animated as she continues “...An’ then my friend Stiles found me, and he brought me back! He works on a pirate ship, and he likes comic books, and he thinks werewolves are the coolest.”
The man looks up then, as if he’d only just realized he was standing there, his face doing something complicated as his (incredibly beautiful) eyes trace Stiles’ shape quickly. “Sorry, I- Thank you so much. I don't know what happened--one minute she was right there--I must seem like a terrible-”
Stiles can't let the poor guy continue to beat himself up. “Hey, no, it happens all the time, there's a lot going on here, kids get distracted.”
“I really can't thank you enough, uh, Stiles, right?” he asks as though uncertain he'd heard Tali correctly.
Stiles laughs lightly, “It's a lot easier to say than what's on my driver’s licence.”
“Stiles the pirate,” he says with a smile that makes Stiles’ heart and his breath speed up. He offers his hand and introduces himself with “I'm Derek.”
Taking a deep breath to make sure his voice is steady, Stiles takes Derek's hand, mildly shocked at the electric feeling that rushes through him at the contact. “Nice to meet you, Derek.” Stiles feels Tali watching him, and he glances at her to find her head tilted and her eyes moving between him and Derek thoughtfully. He reluctantly slides his hand from Derek's, vaguely aware he's been holding it for longer than strictly necessary, and turns toward Tali. “And you, Ms. Tali, it was great to have someone to talk to about superheroes; most of my other friends don't like them much.”
Tali beams at him and sticks out her arm to shake Stiles’ hand, which he takes with a dramatic bow that makes her giggle. When he straightens up, Derek is looking at him with a softly awed smile and eyes that are positively sparkling . “You're silly,” Tali teases, “Can you play with us a while?”
She's looking at him pleadingly, a slight pout and eyebrows pushed up high on her forehead for maximum cuteness. Her brows aren't newly as impressive as her dad's, but it's enough to make him want to skip work. Derek’s face is doing a pretty decent job of mirroring Tali’s, and that is just wholly unfair.
If Stiles is looking at Derek more than Tali when he says “I really wish I could,” he can't really be blamed. He manages to get it together to direct “I have to get to work now, kiddo,” at Tali. Both Derek and Tali seem to deflate a little, and Stiles feels strangely guilty. He blames the eyebrows.
Derek rubs the back of his neck, balancing Tali in one arm, his eyes looking down at their feet for a moment before catching Stiles’ eye. “Maybe, uh. Maybe we can come and get a tour of your ship?” he asks hopefully, his ears turning a pleasing pink that has nothing to do with the afternoon sun. Stiles wants to taste the blush, see what else he can do to make it happen.
Tali excitedly asks, “Oh! Can we, can we, pleeease!” and Stiles feels his own face heat--thinking about what Derek’s skin feels like while he’s holding his kid, while he’s at work and surrounded by kids, is beyond inappropriate. Get it together, Stilinski he mentally chastises himself. Getting caught up in Tali’s wiggly excitement lets the heated mental images dissolve, and he can’t do anything but answer honestly, “I’d like that very much.”
Derek thanks him again as they part, and Tali calls “See you soon!” over Derek’s shoulder as they walk away. Stiles waves back, then has to actually shake his head to clear it before he heads back to Pirate Cove.
Boyd waves at him when he gets back, and Stiles goes to update his friend on what happened with Tali--and to talk about Derek a little. It’s a relatively quiet time at the Cove, lunch time usually is, as most families take the time to eat their picnic lunches or brave the lines at the food stands. Stiles is grateful for the fact that they only have half a dozen or so kids, instead of the twenty-five or so that they usually have, which is the upper limit on the number of kids allowed--and a lot to handle all at once. Stiles loved it though.
As he and Boyd caught up, pausing occasionally to warn kids about running, help fill buckets under the plank’s water spouts, or check in with the attendants on the other side of the shallow pool surrounding the ship, Stiles found his mind wandering back to Tali and Derek.
Was it ridiculous for him to hope for what could only be a summer fling with a guy who has a kid? Was it irresponsible to start something, if it was even an option? He’s pretty sure Derek was flirting with him, or at least was interested in flirting with him. And when they had touched, it was like every romance novel cliche about ‘electric contact’ suddenly made sense.
“Oh man, Stiles, you got it bad my friend,” Boyd teases in his quiet way.
“You know me, when I fall, I fall… Only. He’s got a kid, and she’s amazing! Funny, and bright, I think she might talk even more than me! But she’s like, five. It’s not fair to just jump into a kid’s life like that. I’m leaving for Denver in two months. Plus, it’s not like I’m great with not getting emotionally attached; it’s not good for me to jump into something that can’t last either.”
Boyd hums his agreement, being well acquainted with Stiles’ tendency to dive in head first. “Sometimes, things work out,” he says sagely, looking slightly over Stiles’ shoulder with a wide grin.
Stiles turns around and finds himself flailing to stay on his feet as his legs are tackled by all forty pounds of Tali. Luckily, Derek was right behind her, and then he was right next to Stiles, catching him before he could wipe out and end up ass first on the unforgiving concrete. Stiles feels hot where they’re touching, his back half pressed against Derek’s very firm chest, Derek’s arm wrapped low around his waist. Stiles feels like he’s burning up. He might need to have Tali hose him down with one of the water canons…
Thankfully, Tali giggles then, again pulling him out of his thoughts. “Oops! Sorry, Stiles!”
“No problem, kiddo,” Stiles laughs, patting her hair and stepping away from Derek, missing his heat despite the warmth of the sun.
“It’s a good thing Uncle Derek caught you, or you coulda fallen down!”
“Yeah it’s a very good thi- Uncle Derek? I thought-” Stiles looked back and forth between Tali and Derek rapidly, processing the new information.
Derek huffs out an apologetic “Yeah, Tali’s my older sister’s kid. I love her lots,” he says, ruffling Tali’s hair and pulling her against his side, “But her mom’d be pretty mad at me if I tried to take her back to Boulder with me.”
“I bet. Though, it’s probably hard to say goodbye, right? I mean, Tali is probably the coolest kid I’ve ever met.” Stiles grins at Tali, gratified to see that she’s positively beaming at him.
Boyd clears his throat loudly, and Stiles hears the unspoken “ You missed something, pal ” in the sound. Stiles thinks back a couple seconds to find what it might be, and “Oh! You live in Boulder?”
“Yeah, I’m just here for the summer, visiting Tali,” Derek smiles, looking slightly confused about why Stiles is excited about where he lives, eyebrows quirked in amused concern.
Stiles can’t believe his luck! Two out of three of the obstacles in the way of a potential relationship with Derek are not, in fact, in the way at all! “That’s funny, I’m moving to Denver for my Masters in Criminal Psych in August.”
Derek smiles one of those eyes-scrunched-and-sparkling smiles that Stiles thinks he might become addicted to. “I’m at UC Boulder for my PhD in History, we’re practically neighbors.” Stiles is pretty sure he imagines the flirtatious tone in Derek’s voice, but he doesn’t care.
Tali pulls on Stiles’ arm, forcing him to tear his eyes away from Derek. Again. “Can you show us the pirate ship now?” At a look from Derek, she adds “Please?” and Stiles can’t help but laugh. He and Tali are going to get along just fine.
“Yeah, let’s go see the ship,” Derek starts before Stiles can answer. “Then later, maybe Stiles would like to have dinner?” Derek looks at Stiles hopefully, and if he had even been entertaining turning Derek down, that face would’ve changed his mind.
“That sounds great, I’m done at 5 o’clock,”
Derek smiles again, or his smile grows, really, and Tali adds “We can get hot dogs!”
“I love hot dogs,” Stiles says, because he really does, but also, if he and Tali are going to be buds, he should remind her of the things they have in common. If he and Derek make it to an actual date, he thinks having someone with such good puppy dog eyes will be very handy.
Derek laughs, and it’s a great sound. “Sorry kiddo, I promised your mom I’d have you back by four.”
Tali pouts and looks so put out that Stiles stifles a laugh. Instead, he says “Hey, Tali, next time, we’ll totally go for hot dogs, okay?”
She looks contemplative for a moment before nodding her agreement and taking him and Derek both by the hand, marching them toward the pirate ship. Derek looks at him over Tali’s head with an amused smirk “Next time, huh?”
Stiles lets a grin spread across his face. “Yep.”
“Good,” is all Derek says, but it sounds like a promise.