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Intermediate Braiding Skills

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Derek arrived at the Stilinski household miraculously on-time despite the near temper tantrum that Lydia had thrown this morning. She was still sulking as they walked up the drive, pouty after being told on no uncertain terms that it was not her place to ask to be on Daddy Do’s. Derek was really hoping that she wouldn’t stay in a bad mood and ruin the whole morning.

Stiles threw open the door before Derek could even knock, grinning widely.

"Hey! Hi. Welcome,” Stiles said, stepping back and waving them in. “You can take your shoes off, this is definitely a shoes-off house. Jackets on the hook. Derek, I’ve got coffee coming in about five minutes if you drink coffee. Do you drink coffee? I’ve got tea somewhere, if you’re a tea person instead, though by ‘somewhere,’ I think I mean ‘at the bottom of an unpacked box,’ so it might take me a while to find?”

“Coffee’s great,” Derek said, before Stiles could carry on. He took Lydia’s jacket from her and hung it next to his own.

“You have a lot of maps,” Lydia observed, folding her arms over her chest.

Turning, Derek saw that Stiles did, indeed, have a lot of maps. The living room was mostly unpacked, save for a few stacks of boxes that were masquerading as end tables and a TV stand, but the most prominent things in the room were definitely the sprawling maps that covered nearly every surface.

Erica’s head popped up from behind the sofa, her hair loose and unbraided for once. “It’s a craft! You cut up maps and put ‘em in picture frames for the walls, and it looks really cool. Daddy saw it on Pinterest.”

“You can help, if you want,” Stiles told Lydia. “All you have to do is cut on the lines I drew.”

“’Kay,” Lydia said agreeably, earlier sulk apparently forgotten in the face of arts and crafts.

“Here, you can have the green scissors,” Erica said, handing them over as Lydia headed over to the couch. “Sorry they’re baby scissors. Daddy won’t me have the pointy ones.”

“My daddy won’t, either,” Lydia replied.

They shared a look of commiseration, and then shot Derek and Stiles terrifyingly synchronous glares.

“Oh, Jesus,” Derek muttered.

“C’mon,” Stiles said, pulling Derek along. “Coffee. Then video camera lessons. Then hair.”

“Your place looks smaller on the outside,” Derek commented as they traveled into the kitchen. It was a lot more unpacked than the living room. The fridge was so plastered with photographs, artwork, charts, and lists that it took Derek a moment to determine that underneath it all, the fridge was actually black.

“Yeah, it’s pretty nice,” Stiles agreed, busying himself with one of the cupboards. “Not gonna lie, though, I mostly picked it because the library is at the end of the street. They have so much more programming than the one back home—which I guess makes sense, since, you know, it’s a city instead of rural UP.”

“Lydia does their summer reading program every year,” Derek said. “I know they have other stuff during the school year, but she’s already involved in so many other things…”

Stiles nodded. “So, the mugs I have clean are American Mustache Institute, Avengers, Marilyn Monroe, and innumerable hand-painted mugs from Erica. Preference?”

“Uh. Anything’s fine,” Derek answered.

As Stiles busied himself with the mugs, Derek leaned against the counter, suddenly not sure what to say or where to put himself; his nerves, which had died a quick death only a few minutes ago, were back. God, Stiles had a lot of friends on his fridge. He recognized Allison from Stiles’ videos, and judging by the wedding photos, he could also identify her husband, Scott—Stiles’ old cameraman. There were photographs of other people, other children, and a lot of Erica.

Derek’s own fridge had no photos or sticker-charts or chore wheels. He only had two magnets, and they were usually used to hang whatever glitter-laden piece of artwork Lydia demanded he stick up there.

“Oh, crap,” Stiles muttered, and Derek looked over to see Stiles holding a large strip of what appeared to be wallpaper, a grimace on his face. At seeing Derek’s expression, he explained, “These stupid cupboards are all lined with this horrible old wallpaper. It keeps coming off.”

“Here,” Derek offered, holding out a hand. “Where’s your trash?”

“Under the sink,” Stiles said, which he was standing right in front of. He dropped the strip on the counter. “Don’t worry about it; we recycle. Or. Well. We’re trying to. I can’t seem to find blue bags in Albany. Is that a thing? Is there a blue bag shortage?”

“I think the only place that sells them is Wegmans,” Derek replied, frowning. “They’re usually buried under the toilet paper, for some reason.”

Stiles groaned. “God. Wegmans. Are you an Albany native?”

Derek shook his head. “No, I grew up in California.”

“Good,” said Stiles. “So you’ve also noticed the weirdly cult-like worship of Wegmans? Like, man, from all the build-up I got, I thought there’d be a theme park in there or something.”

Derek shrugged. “It’s just a grocery store.”

Exactly. Oh my God, and the PTA! I have never been more terrified of a group of women, and I’m friends with a nationally ranked archer. I had to hide behind the Tic-Tacs the other day because their leader was in the other check-out line.”

“I thought they seemed nice,” Derek said, frowning.

“Well, yeah. Check the Harlequin section of the library, sometime, and count how many of them are about hot single dads. Me, I barely clock in at ‘cute’, and anyway, I’m gay. And not the charming, adorable, Sex and the City gay.”

Derek frowned. Stiles was charming and adorable.

Not that he’d tell Stiles that, but still.

"Right, so, while I’m thinking of it—and this is not me shamelessly trying to exploit your generosity, despite the fact that you are about to singlehandedly save my entire YouTube channel with your cameraman skills—do you happen to know anything about home DIY handyman type things?” Stiles asked, plowing on to yet another topic.

“Uh. A little,” Derek said slowly. “My dad’s a carpenter, so growing up I would sometimes help him out around the house, building the porch or cornhole boards or whatever. Why?”

“I’ve been thinking about fixing the doors in this place—they swing inward, which is really dangerous for Erica, you know, if she has a seizure in the bathroom and I can’t get in because she’s blocking the door? Theoretically, she shouldn’t have any seizures, because she’s doing this trial, but just in case. You know? But the internet says reversing a door’s direction is ‘not for a beginning DIY-er’. Which I am.” Stiles sighed. “My dad did it for me, at my old house, after Erica’s diagnosis. I mean, we don’t need it. But.”

“I could… try,” Derek offered hesitantly.

“No,” Stiles said, shaking his head. “No, you know what, we really don’t need to do it. I’m just being paranoid. This trial is getting really great results.”

“I wouldn’t mind,” Derek tried.

"No, really. And I’ve been completely hijacking this conversation, haven’t I? Sorry. I do that sometimes.” Stiles frowned unhappily. “A lot of the time. It’s like the rambling thing, man, you’ve just got to jump in and shut me up. Oh! Coffee’s done. How do you like yours?”

“Black’s fine,” Derek said.

“Not at the quality I buy,” Stiles replied as he poured coffee first into the Andy Warhol-style Marilyn Monroe mug, then into a lurid teal and scarlet creation with sparkly gold lettering that read MARY XMAS, with a backwards S. “You want at least creamer, trust me.”

Derek shrugged a shoulder. “Fine, then. Creamer.”

Stiles handed him the Marilyn Monroe mug and the tub of Coffee Mate.

“What, uh, hairstyle are you shooting this morning?” Derek asked, pouring in a liberal amount of creamer for himself, before passing the tub back.

Stiles lit up. “Oh, man, you’ll love this week’s—it’s a Halloween hairstyle I just thought of it a few days ago. I want to get it filmed and put it up tonight, instead of one of the pre-filmed ones, so people can actually use it in two weeks. You could even use it for Lydia’s costume, I bet, if she’s using devil horns, and it’s easy enough…”

Derek hid his smile behind his coffee mug, and let Stiles’ rambling wash over him.

 

 

“There’s a head!” Lydia shrieked.

“Oops,” Stiles said, darting forward to peer into the box alongside Lydia. “Careful, be careful with it. That’s expensive.”

“It’s a head,” Lydia repeated, wide-eyed, staring at the mannequin head in her hands.

“Yep,” Stiles said, gently taking it from her. “I use it to practice more adult hairstyles on, for weddings and prom and stuff. It was a going-away present from Erica’s Aunt Allison, since she used to be my model for stuff like that.”

Stiles carefully set the model head on a tall and sturdy-looking stack of boxes.

They were in what would eventually be a craft and hairstyling room, according to Stiles, trying to clear a corner of the room in which to shoot the newest Daddy Do’s video. Erica and Lydia had been torn away from Erica’s mermaid Barbie to help, and they had been doing a good job until they were diverted by a box that was filled entirely with hairstyling things—ribbons, hair jewelry, hairsprays, bunmakers, and things that Derek didn’t even recognize, despite having watched every single video on the Daddy Do’s channel multiple times.

“I have a head, too!” Erica chimed in. “It’s a Barbie head, and it’s got makeup and hair stuff.”

"Makeup?" Lydia asked, perking up.

"Just fake makeup. I'm not allowed to have real makeup until I'm thirteen," Erica said, making a face, but brightened and added, "Except Halloween makeup, 'cause that's different!"

"I wanna wear makeup for Halloween," Lydia said excitedly. "Princess makeup! Daddy!"

"We'll talk about it later," Derek said, as Stiles gave him an apologetic look.

"It's in this box!" Erica announced, pulling a life-sized Barbie head out from another box by its hair. In her other fist was a ziplock baggie that looked to contain the accessories.

As Lydia and Erica converged on the head, Stiles dragged a stool away from the wall and over to a wooden desk that Derek was familiar with from the videos. It was normally strewn with bits and bobs related to crafting and hairstyling, and it was strange to see its surface bare. It helped when, moments later, Stiles slapped a pack of black pipe cleaners, small containers of clear elastics and blonde bobby pins, and a larger container of hairbrushes, onto its top. Derek knew from watching the videos with Allison that Stiles could detail and defend the specific purpose of each brush in that box.

"So, when we film, we actually do the introduction last," Stiles said, as he picked out a bright green rat tail comb from the box. "It can feel sort of weird to film, just starting at the tutorial part, but that way after we edit it, the introduction has the finished hairstyle on display."

Derek nodded. "Makes sense."

"Yep. Erica, you ready?"

Erica looked up from where she and Lydia were busily untangling the Barbie head's hair. "Yeah."

Stiles patted the stool, and Erica left Lydia to go sit. Once she was on, she gripped the sides tightly and Stiles boosted the stool up several feet in one big whoosh, making Erica squeal happily.

Derek glanced over at Lydia, who was blatantly envious. She pouted at Derek when she noticed him looking, and huffed when Derek raised his eyebrows calmly back. Sulkily, Lydia went back to brushing the Barbie's head.

"Okay. Cameraman ready?" Stiles asked.

Derek nodded, raising the camera up and moving to a better position right in front of the stool. The camera training had been disorganized and rambling, but had eventually distilled down to just two buttons: the record, and the zoom.

"Remember, don't be afraid to get in close, if you need to," Stiles said. "Just get a clear shot of my fingers."

"I can do that," Derek promised, after a swallow at the thought of Stiles' fingers.

Stiles smiled brightly. “Awesome. Erica, give us the go.”

“Lights! Camera!”

Derek hurriedly pressed record.

“Aaaaand, action!” Erica shouted, and stuck out her tongue at the camera.

“Get back in there, you goose,” Stiles said, lightly tapping on it.

Erica giggled and exchanged the tongue for a toothy grin.

“Okay. So, step one,” Stiles said, and twirled the rat tail comb between his fingers while Derek struggled against the immediate impulse to hit the zoom key on that motion alone. “You want to section off two little rectangles of hair at the front of her head—they should be even, and not too long—and create two ponytails. If your daughter has bangs, just leave those out, otherwise you’ll just end up with bits sticking out of her cat-ears. Or devil horns. Whichever you’re making.”

Derek focused in as Stiles created said ponytails and secured each with a clear elastic. Focused in on his fingers.

“Then, you want to take two pipe cleaners and twist them together a little, to make them easier to work with, and then bend them around the base of the ponytail to secure them. Then take the hair from the ponytail and separate it into two sections—this is the braiding part, and the third section will be the pipe cleaners. And now, we braid.”

Stiles’ fingers moved down, deftly braiding hair and pipe cleaner together, and Derek concentrated on the camera, on recording, on—

Lydia just off camera, was making kissy faces at him. When she noticed him noticing, she pointed at Stiles, and then dramatically swooned, batting her eyelashes furiously.

Derek’s ears burned, and he focused back on the camera.

 

 

Derek had no idea what a fairy princess demon witch with nunchucks was supposed to look like, but Lydia had informed him on the ride to the first Halloween store that, “You can’t know, Daddy. That’s how fashion works. You start with a vision and you end with an outfit.” He really needed to stop letting her talk to her Aunt Cora so much. He’d thought girls weren’t supposed to care about fashion until they were at least fifteen and obsessed with boys.

He was fairly dreading Lydia’s teenage years.

Presently, Lydia was perusing the selection of striped tights, while Derek played Spot the Most Offensive Halloween Costume. Currently, it was a tossup between Skanky Geisha and Pregnant Teenager (complete with fake cigarette).

“Daddy,” Lydia interrupted, thrusting two pairs of tights at him, “which one is more fierce?”

Derek blinked. “What?”

Lydia rolled her eyes. “Fierce. Which one?”

Derek stared at the tights. “Um. The green and black ones.”

“You’re right,” Lydia agreed, and put the orange ones back.

Derek rolled his own eyes—when Lydia wasn’t looking—and followed her as she moved on to the fairy wings.

“Those look… fierce,” Derek said, pointing to a random pair.

Lydia gave him the most scandalized look a six-year-old could muster, and then some. “Those are not fierce, Daddy.”

“Right,” said Derek. “Sorry.”

Lydia patted his hand consolingly, and then went to investigate the neighboring pair of wings with careful scrutiny.

“So… you had a good time with Erica, this morning?” Derek asked tentatively. He’d practically had to drag Lydia away, and she’d talked of nothing but Erica the whole way home. But even so.

“Yep,” Lydia said, not breaking from her inspection.

“It’s okay if you didn’t,” Derek told her.

“She’s nice,” Lydia replied, still not looking up.

Derek frowned.

“We’d probably connect better if I had a mermaid Barbie, too,” Lydia added carelessly.

Good grief. His child.

“No,” Derek said flatly.

“But—”

“You don’t need another Barbie,” Derek said. “You just got a new one for your birthday from Grandma.”

“We’ll never come out of this recession if we don’t do our part as consumers, Daddy,” Lydia informed him.

Jesus Christ.

“The answer is no, Lydia,” Derek said.

“All my other Barbies are stupid,” Lydia whined. “If you want me to like Erica—”

Lydia ,” Derek snapped, interrupting his daughter’s attempt to blackmail him, of all things. “I said no, and that’s the end of the discussion. Now pick a pair of fairy wings.”

“I don’t like any of the wings here,” Lydia replied, scowling.

“Fine, then. Let’s go.”

“No. I want to look at the nunchucks.”

Derek resisted the urge to pinch the bridge of his nose. “You already looked at the nunchucks. You said you didn’t like them.”

“Well, I want to look again,” Lydia insisted.

“Two minutes,” Derek allowed. “And then we’re checking out and going home.”

“Five,” Lydia demanded.

“Two.”

Five.”

“Two—and if I hear one more word of argument, we’re going home right now, without your tights.”

After a long moment in which Lydia glared up at him and Derek stared back impassively, Lydia finally huffed and stomped off to the nunchucks. Derek sighed quietly and followed, wondering if other parents had to deal with this, or if this was just an unfortunate situation of Lydia inheriting Kate’s craftiness and his own stubbornness. 

He’d ask Stiles.

 

 

“Oh my God, only all the time,” Stiles said, when Derek asked on the phone, later that night. “Oh, man. I mean, Erica is unquestionably the love of my life, but there are days when all I want to do is pull out my hair and scream. You know, two nights before we were supposed to move, she stole my phone, set an alarm for herself, and woke up at four in the morning to unpack half our moving boxes? And it was only half because I woke up when she accidentally smashed my mother’s old vase.”

Derek snorted. “She wasn’t happy about the move?”

“No, we left a lot of people behind, and she really liked her old school. But she’s been fine, now that we’re actually here and settling in,” Stiles said. “She seems to get along with Lydia, too, which helps.”

“Yeah, Lydia said she had a good time this morning, too,” Derek said, thankful that Stiles couldn’t see the grimace on his face at the memory of the conversation.

“And thanks again for helping me out this morning,” Stiles added. “Really, seriously.”

“No, it was fun,” Derek assured him. “And now that we can make devil horns with her hair, we have one less overpriced thing to buy at the Halloween store.”

Stiles laughed. “That’s right. How is the costume coming? She’s going as a… what was it? Princess devil fairy with nunchucks?”

“Fairy princess demon witch with nunchucks,” Derek replied. “And don’t ask what that’s supposed to look like, because I have no idea.”

“Well, at least she’s creative,” Stiles offered. “My daughter just wanted a costume that would incorporate her favorite weapon. What six-year-old has a favorite weapon?

“I had a BB gun when I was her age,” Derek said. “It was a hand-me-down from Laura, when Uncle Peter got her a .22.”

“Yeah, I had guns growing up, too—pretty much everyone does, in the UP, and my dad was the Sheriff, so there was basically no getting around it—but God, it’s different when it’s your kid, you know?” Stiles sighed. “They’re just so tiny.”

“Did your dad make you wear those ridiculous earmuffs when you went shooting?”

“The awful plastic ones that are only made for adults, so they never fit you?”

“Yeah, and they’d push down on your ears and you’d get a headache?”

“Oh my God, they were the worst. Though, no, actually, the worst part was my dad’s brilliant solution to that: he duct-taped a block of wood to the underside of the headpiece, so they’d fit me.”

Derek snorted.

“Yeah,” Stiles said. “It was very redneck. There’s pictures, somewhere.”

Derek grinned, and, when Stiles didn’t say anything else, he moved on to the idea that had popped into his head over dinner. He crossed his fingers and said, “Listen, I was thinking—Albany has a really great children’s museum, and it’s basically Lydia’s favorite place in the world. There’s a couple of high-energy exhibits, but I think Erica would be mostly okay. Did you want to go sometime?”

“I—yeah, sure,” Stiles said, sounding surprised. “That sounds great, actually. I’m assuming we’d want to go for the full day, not in the evening, so… You said you’re busy on Sundays, right?”

“Yeah,” Derek confirmed. “Lydia and I help out at the local food pantry.”

“Oh my God, of course you do.”

Derek blinked. “What?”

"Nothing,” Stiles said quickly. “So, um, we could go next Saturday, after filming? I mean, if you were going to help me film again. You don’t have to.”

“No, I want to!” Derek said. “The filming and the museum. Both. Yes. That sounds good.”

“Um. Okay. Great,” Stiles said.

“Great,” Derek agreed, stupidly, immensely glad that Stiles couldn’t see his idiotic grin, or hear the fierce pounding of his heart.

 

 

Fair warning: Uncle Wilbur is giving everyone copies of his rough draft for Christmas, Laura texted him Tuesday night, while Derek was studiously avoiding conversation with the other parents at the Girl Scout meeting.

Lydia can use it for papier mache, Derek texted back, and then pulled up the Pinterest app on his phone to explore craft ideas. He’d joined months ago, because Daddy Do’s had frequently linked things from the site, but he hadn’t really started to use it until last week. No one knew yet, mostly because it would somehow end up on Facebook and then he’d never hear the end of it from his family.

He was looking at a post on papier mậché bowels (which had turned out to be a very disappointing typo) when Lydia came running up to him, slapping her hands onto his knees.

“Daddy, Daddy, Daddy,” she demanded, fisting his jeans and tugging. “Come look at the beads I painted!”

Derek sighed, but allowed himself to be dragged over to the table to admire Lydia’s painted clay beads for the fourth time that night. In his pocket, his phone vibrated.

She can use my copy, too.

 

 

“—and I’m the line leader this week, ‘cause Jenny was but then in art she dumped a whole jar of paint on Danny and it got all over him, even under his art shirt and on his real clothes and his hair, so then I got to be line leader instead.”

“That’s wonderful, dear,” Talia said, smiling. “And how’s your dance coming along? Your father told me you have a recital soon?”

Lydia nodded happily. “November 8th at seven o’clock, but we have a call time so we have to get there early. I’m gonna be a flower!”

“Well, make sure your father videotapes it so we can see,” Talia instructed.

Her eyes met Derek’s, and Derek nodded that yes, he would. Of course he would. Derek had an entire external hard drive of pictures and videos of Lydia, and it was mostly full. He even had an underwater camera, leftover from Lydia’s Baby & Me swimming lessons.

“Know what else?” Lydia asked, throwing an unsubtle glance at Derek before she continued. “We went over Mr. S’s house on Saturday so Daddy could help him, and I got to play with Erica. We cut up maps.”

“This is the family with the YouTube channel, right? The one who taught your father how to French braid?” Talia asked.

“The one that your dad has a crush on?” Cora added, glancing up from her magazine. She was sitting in as tech support for their mother, and only jumped in to occasionally torment Derek.

Derek’s ears burned. “I don’t have a—”

"That’s the one,” Lydia said pertly. “Did you watch Mr. S on YouTube? He makes really pretty hair. Daddy watches his videos all the time.”

Cora looked positively thrilled. “Does he?”

Talia elbowed her. “What about Erica? Are you the two of you getting along?”

Lydia nodded. “Yeah. We’re going to the museum and I’m gonna show her all the cool stuff, ‘cause she hasn’t been there. She can’t have space ice cream, though, so I can’t show her that. Even though it’s reeeeally cool,” Lydia said, with another unsubtle glance at Derek.

There had been a whole discussion on why Erica’s special diet meant that there would be no space ice cream on this museum trip. A long discussion.

“Erica’s a very special little girl, Lydia,” Talia agreed, drawing Lydia’s attention back to her, “and I’m glad you’re making an effort to be friends with her.”

“She is really special. Do you know she has a mermaid Barbie doll, Grandma?” Lydia said earnestly. “It changes colors in the water and it’s the best Barbie doll ever! I don’t have a Barbie like that.”

Derek sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose.

Talia frowned at Cora. “You used to have a mermaid Barbie doll, didn’t you? It was supposed to float or something.”

“Yeah, it didn’t,” Cora replied, not looking up from her magazine this time. “But it made a good diving stick.”

Derek remembered that. Laura, as the eldest, had been the one in charge of throwing the diving sticks into the pool for her younger siblings to go after. The Barbie had always been thrown last—usually after Laura had thoroughly traumatized Cora by having it beg for its life, first.

“Fortunately,” Derek cut in, before Lydia could say anything else, “Lydia already has more than enough Barbies to play with.”

“Nuh-uh,” Lydia protested.

“We’ll see,” Talia said, with a smile that Derek knew meant Lydia would be the owner of a brand-new mermaid Barbie very soon.

From the smug look on Lydia’s face, she knew it, too.

“Thank you, Grandma!” she said happily, and leaned forward to smack a kiss to the webcam.

“We’ll see,” Derek repeated, his tone significantly less happy. “Lydia, you still need to brush your teeth and straighten your room before you go to bed. Say goodnight to Grandma and be ready for me to tuck you in in fifteen minutes, okay?”

Lydia smiled at him brightly, sang a cheerful goodbye to her grandmother and her Aunt Cora, and bounced off of Derek’s bed. 

“No running!” Derek called after her.

Lydia switched to a skip in mid-air, which was actually even more noisy and potentially destructive, but Derek let it go. He could be a firm parent tomorrow. It was late.

“Mom, you are not getting her that Barbie doll,” he said, when Lydia was out of earshot.

Talia frowned. “Of course I am.”

“Do you know how many she already has?” Derek demanded. “And you just got her a new one for her birthday! Lydia needs to learn to appreciate what she already has.”

"Don’t be ridiculous, Derek,” Talia said dismissively. “Lydia is my only grandchild, and I’m her only grandmother. It’s my job to spoil her.”

“Well—can’t you wait until Christmas?” Derek tried.

“Why would I wait until Christmas? She wants it now.”

Cora snickered into her magazine.

“This isn’t funny, Cora,” Derek said through gritted teeth.

She looked up at him with a raised eyebrow, unimpressed.

“Derek,” Talia said patiently, “this is what grandparents do. How many times did Nana and Pop-Pop let you pig out on pizza or birthday cake or whatever it was you desperately needed four servings of, and then conveniently dropped you off at home right before you started throwing up?”

“But that taught me a lesson, didn’t it? About eating too much,” Derek argued, even though the fact that there had been multiple incidents said otherwise. “All you’re going to teach Lydia is that she needs new toys to be happy.”

Talia rolled her eyes. “Don’t be so dramatic. You’re a good parent, Derek, and Lydia isn’t going to be ruined forever if I indulge her a little. You’re doing too good a job for that.”

Derek had a sneaking suspicion that his mother was just saying that to get her own way, but like with the skipping, he was too tired to stand his ground. And anyway, this was nothing compared to the three year guilt-trip campaign she’d taken up to get him to move back home following Lydia’s birth and his subsequent single fatherhood.

“Fine,” he sighed. “But I’m pre-approving her Christmas presents this year.”

“We’ll talk about that when the time comes,” Talia said pleasantly. “Now. About this man of yours.”

 

 

Lydia was in her element in the children’s museum. Not only was she in her favorite place in the world, but she also had someone to show off for and boss around in her favorite place in the world. Derek and Stiles were occasionally dragged into exhibits to do the boring parts, like donating pennies for elaborate coin drops or standing in line for the planetarium while the girls played with the water table, but for the most part they were left alone.

Presently, Derek and Stiles were lounging on a bench while Erica and Lydia stuck magnetic gears to the wall, and Derek was recounting the horrific temper tantrum Lydia had thrown Thursday night, upon the discovering that Jackson was apparently going as a ninja for Halloween.

“For some reason, Isaac’s letting Jackson use real nunchucks,” Derek said, rolling his eyes. “I don’t know why. Lydia got plastic ones—after a very long argument in the store—and within ten minutes of having them out of the pack, she accidentally smashed her piggy bank. I’m pretty sure she was mostly mad because it’s Jackson who has them.”

Stiles frowned. “You know, I can’t really picture Lydia having a full-blown temper tantrum? Like, obviously, she’s six, but she wields her words better than most adults. It’s kind of terrifying.”

“Oh, Lydia’s temper tantrums involve her words, too,” Derek said dryly. “Thursday night, I heard about injustice and self-worth and the importance of authentic fashion for a good ten minutes, but it only lasts so long if you’re not engaging her. Once she realizes she’s being ignored, she falls back on the standard screaming and crying.”

“The neighbors must be thrilled with you,” Stiles said, grinning.

“The neighbors are used to it,” Derek replied. “We live right above the Laheys. It takes an hour for them to get Jackson to bed, on a good night.”

“I had night terrors as a kid,” Stiles said conversationally. “Awful things. A neighbor even called in a domestic disturbance, once, because we’d just moved and I was screaming bloody murder at three in the morning. There’s a vague genetic disposition, but thus far Erica has been night terror free, thank God.”

“Last year,” Derek replied, “on Thanksgiving, Uncle Wilbur fell asleep watching the kids, and the older ones put on 30 Days of Night . Lydia was petrified of vampires for months. Horrible nightmares. I tried everything—I lined her room with garlic, bought bottles of holy water, got her a crucifix…”

“Oh my God. What ended up working?”  

“Nothing. It went away on its own, eventually,” Derek said.

"Well, now I know what not to be for Halloween, at least,” Stiles joked, grinning widely.

“Of course you dress up for Halloween,” Derek said, rolling his eyes.

Stiles beamed. “Of course I do. Last year Erica was firefighter, and Scott and I dressed up as dalmatians. We wanted to go as sexy firefighters—you know, just the suspenders and hats—but it was snowing for trick-or-treat that year. Probably for the best, anyway. I might have blinded the neighborhood with my pale, scrawny chest.”

Derek’s brain was still too busy misfiring at the idea of Stiles as a sexy, shirtless fireman to correct him. 

“Daddy!” Lydia yelled, in a moment of excellent timing. “Daddy, look what we made!”

Derek turned to nod appreciatively at the multi-colored blob of gears that they had affixed to the wall.

“It’s a bunny!” Erica chimed in. “Look! See the ears?”

“They look great,” Derek said, scanning the blob hopelessly for something that looked like bunny ears.

“It’s awesome, guys!” Stiles said enthusiastically. “Let’s take a picture of it, okay, and we can put it on Facebook.”

“Yeah!” Lydia squealed. “Daddy, take a picture too, so I can show Grandma.”

“How about Stiles takes the photo, and tags us in it?” Derek suggested.

“Will Grandma see it?”

Derek wasn’t actually sure, but Stiles came to his rescue with a firm, “She definitely will, Lydia.”

Lydia and Erica stood side-by-side with the identical fishtail braids Stiles had given them this morning, and gave each other bunny ears for the picture—ostensibly to match their creation, but Derek knew for a fact that Lydia had not taken a single posed picture without bunny ears or a peace sign in at least six months. Then they nearly plowed Stiles over, demanding to see the picture.

“We look fierce,” Lydia pronounced.

Hammers!” Erica yelled, having caught sight of the Take Apart station.

“Safety glasses first!” Lydia called, rushing after her. “You have to wear safety glasses! Erica!”

 

 

It occurred to Derek way after it should have that Erica, on her ketogenic diet, probably wouldn’t be able to eat any Halloween candy—and yet Stiles had said that they went trick-or-treating last year, and was clearly preparing to go again this year. 

He brought it up when they were picking the kids up from Latchkey on Monday.

“Oh!” Stiles said, blinking. “Right, yeah, she can’t have most of the candy she would get. She gets a bunch of little toys, instead. It’s a thing I saw online—you plan the route in advance and drop off a note and a toy at each house, explaining the situation, and asking them to give Erica the toy when she comes around, instead of candy. It worked really well last year.” 

Derek attempted not to swoon at the image of Stiles carefully picking out dozens of little toys, planning out a route, typing, printing, and folding notes, putting them in envelopes, and then going door-to-door to drop each one off.

“That’s—” He deliberately bit down on the word adorable. “—really smart.”

Stiles nodded. “Yeah. There’s nothing I can do about her class Halloween party, but I can at least make sure that she has a good time at night. Did Lydia want to come along? It can’t be as much fun, trick-or-treating in an apartment complex.”

“I’ll have to ask her,” Derek said, “but I’m sure she’ll say yes. Her other option is to partner up with Jackson again, and last year that… ended in tears.”

“The way those two get on, I’m surprised they made it past the first door together,” Stiles said, raising his eyebrows.

“It was the second,” Derek said with a sigh.

 

 

There did not seem to be a pair of fairy wings in existence that would appease Lydia—mostly, it seemed, for the lack of fluff and glitter—so instead Derek convinced her to buy a sturdy, fairly plain pair of wings that she could then decorate to her liking. They bought a terrifying amount of glitter products at the craft store, and Lydia somehow managed to trick Derek into agreeing to sew a liner of sparkly fluff around the edges of the wings. Derek didn’t even know how to sew.

Derek set Lydia on the wings first with the glitter and the help of a fabric-glitter crafting tutorial from Pinterest, and then used the spare time to look up YouTube videos on sewing.

It didn’t look too hard.

But then again, neither had French braiding.

By the time Derek felt like he had a reasonable grasp on how to sew a fluffy pink liner onto a pair of fairy wings, Lydia was messily blowing the non-glued glitter off of the wings.

Derek quietly resigned himself to having sparkly carpeting for a while. Again.

“Are you done?” he asked, cautious of complimenting any of Lydia’s art before it was finished.

Lydia surveyed her work carefully. There were now thin lines of pink, purple, and turquoise glitter running vein-like up and down the wings, and whatever they lacked in grace or steadiness, they certainly made up for in abundance. “Yes,” she said eventually, with great seriousness.

“They look exactly like a fairy’s wings should,” Derek told her.

“I told you none of the wings in the stores were right, Daddy,” Lydia said smugly.

“You were right,” Derek assured her. “I was wrong.”

Lydia looked infinitely pleased with herself.

“Why don’t you start cleaning up while the glue dries?” Derek suggested.

Lydia made a face at that, but dutifully set the wings down and started cleaning. “Daddy,” she said, as she carefully screwed the lid of the glue back on, “my costume is really pretty, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” Derek said, cautiously.

“And remember last year, how Jackson ruined my costume?”

“I remember you ripping the tail off of his dinosaur costume first,” Derek replied, pointedly.

Lydia huffed. “Whatever,” she said, in a scarily perfect imitation of Cora. “Jackson is stupid and I don’t want to go trick-or-treating with him this year.”

“Don’t call people stupid, Lydia,” Derek said automatically.

“He is stupid,” Lydia insisted. “He’s still on the blue-dot books, and he thinks armpit farts are funny.”

Derek raised his eyebrows at her.

“I still don’t want to go trick-or-treating with him,” Lydia said stubbornly.

“How would you like to go trick-or-treating with Erica, then?” Derek asked, because he could only fight the Jackson battle so many times a day.

Lydia sat up straight, her eyes going wide. “Really? With Erica?”

“If you want.”

“Yes!” Lydia screeched, knocking over a canister of purple glitter.

Derek winced.

“Can we have a sleepover afterward?” Lydia asked, quite literally bouncing out of her seat. “We can watch Hocus Pocus and eat candy and play Barbies and—”

“I’ll ask Mr. S,” Derek interrupted, smiling faintly. “But, you won’t be eating candy together. Remember Erica’s special diet?”

Lydia frowned. “But it’s Halloween. Even Aunt Cora says that she takes a day off from her diet.”

“That’s because your Aunt Cora chooses to be on a diet, but Erica is sick, and needs to be on her diet to survive. She could get very sick if she ate candy.”

“Can I have her candy?” Lydia asked eagerly.

“She’s not going to get any candy,” Derek explained. “Mr. S arranged for people to give Erica toys, instead of candy, when she goes trick-or-treating.”

Lydia blinked. “She gets toys?”

“Yes,” Derek said.

“Can I have toys?” Lydia asked.

“No,” Derek said, patiently. “You get to have candy.”

“But toys are better than candy,” Lydia insisted. “Toys are for Christmas and birthdays. Is she getting more mermaid Barbies? Is she getting the ballerina Barbie? That’s way better than candy.”

“I don’t know. It doesn’t matter.”

“It does too. I want toys,” Lydia said petulantly.

“You don’t need toys. You’re getting candy like everyone else,” Derek said, more firmly this time. “This isn’t up for discussion.”

“But that’s not fair,” Lydia whined.

Derek took in a deep breath. “Lydia, Erica is getting toys. You are getting candy. If you don’t want to go trick-or-treating with her, we can stay here and go with Jackson, but you’re not going to get toys for Halloween. It’s not going to happen.”

“But toys are better than candy,” Lydia repeated, this time louder. “If she can’t have candy, why does she get something better? That isn’t fair!”

Derek ignored her, going back to his laptop.

“Daddy,” Lydia said loudly, and when Derek did not respond, she banged her fists on the table. “Daddy!

“Don’t hit things,” Derek said calmly, not looking up.

“I’m not going trick-or-treating with Erica,” Lydia declared. “Or Jackson. I’m going to go by myself.”

“Okay,” Derek said.

“Not even you,” Lydia spat, glaring at Derek. “I’ll go all alone! And you won’t get any candy!”

“You go with me, or we won’t go at all,” Derek replied evenly.

Lydia shrieked in outrage. “It’s—not—fair! Erica gets everything!

Derek did look up at that, giving Lydia a severe look. “Erica is very sick, Lydia, and—“

“No she’s not! ” Lydia yelled, jumping out of her seat. “She’s not sick, she’s never sick, she just gets to have toys for Halloween and a mermaid Barbie and special recess time and be in all the pretty hair videos, and I didn’t get space ice cream, and it’s not fair!” she screamed, and slapped the table again, only to have one hand come down on her fairy wings.

She froze, staring in horror at her ruined lines of glitter, and then burst into tears.

“Lydia—”

“I hate you!” she howled, and took off for her room, sobbing.

 

 

While giving Lydia time to cool off, Derek painstakingly fixed Lydia’s wings, because whatever trouble Lydia was in, he wasn’t going to let her Halloween costume be ruined. He scraped up the smeared glitter and still-wet glue where he could, and then carefully applied a vinegar-dishsoap solution to remove the dried bits. He redrew the lines of glue, dusted on glitter in the right colors, and then set it aside to dry—this time on top of the fridge, where no little hands could wreck it again.

By the time all this was done, he hadn’t heard the muffled sounds of Lydia’s crying for at least ten minutes.

He headed for her bedroom. He listened for her voice, but couldn’t hear anything, which was honestly a bit disappointing. When Lydia had been younger, after they argued, Derek would frequently walk past Lydia’s closed door to hear her giving dramatic, highly skewed reenactments of their argument with her Barbie dolls. It had been endlessly entertaining to eavesdrop on.

Now, though, it was quiet. It usually was. God help him, she was growing up.

Derek softly knocked on her door, waited a few seconds, and then opened it.

Lydia sniffled at him from where she was curled up her bed, puffy-eyed and tearstained. Clutched in her skinny arms, and probably damp with tears, was Lupa, the floppy wolf pup that she’d been sleeping with for years (another gift from her grandmother).

Derek sat down on the edge of her bed.

“Are you ready to talk about this?” he asked.

“Yes,” Lydia said miserably, slowly pushing herself up to sit.

“Okay,” Derek said, and took in a deep breath. He hated this part of parenting. It always felt so impossibly delicate and important at the same time, and even after six years, he still felt ready to screw it all up. “First of all,” he began, “your behavior was completely inappropriate. Hitting things and screaming is not a mature way to behave, and you know it. We had to have this discussion just last week, when you threw a fit about Jackson’s nunchucks.”

“Sorry,” Lydia mumbled.

“Second of all,” Derek went on, “Erica is sick. The reason that she looks so healthy is because she doesn’t eat certain foods, and doesn’t run around the playground, and all those other little things she has to do. How do you think Erica feels about not getting to eat candy on Halloween? How would you feel, if everyone in your class except for you got candy?”

“Sad,” Lydia said quietly, not looking at him.

“Exactly. It’s not fair that she has epilepsy and can’t eat Halloween candy. That’s why her dad is getting her a bunch of little toys, instead. So that she doesn’t feel so bad.”

Lydia nodded. “I know,” she mumbled. “I just—I just got mad. I’m sorry.”

“Furthermore,” Derek said, and Lydia looked even more miserable at the news that there was still more lecturing to come, “Erica being on Daddy Do’s, and her having a mermaid Barbie doll, has nothing to do with her being sick. It’s the same as you being in ballet, or having your science kit. If you can’t handle having friends who have different things than you do, then you’re never going to have any friends at all.”

Tears welled in Lydia’s eyes. “Daddy…”

Derek pressed on. “There’s no reason for you not to be friends with Erica, Lydia. You two get along so well, and if you value space ice cream more than your friends, maybe you shouldn’t be getting any space ice cream at all.”

“I don’t,” Lydia protested, tears starting to run down her face. “I don’t, I like Erica. I’m sorry. I wanna be friends with her, I promise, I wanna—I wanna have friends.”

Derek sighed and scooted farther back, opening his arms out, and Lydia hurried to crawl over. She was small for her age, where Derek was large, and she could still curl up comfortably on his lap. He pulled her close as she cried, and pressed a kiss to the top of her head.

They’d talk about her punishment later.

 

 

When Derek went to pick Lydia up from Latchkey on Wednesday, Lydia was bundled and packed up and waiting for him, alone on the bleachers. As soon as she saw Derek come through the doors, she ran over to him.

“Let’s go,” she said, grabbing his hand and tugging him backwards.

There was no sign of Erica or Stiles.

“Lydia?” Derek asked, but Lydia wasn’t even looking back at him, completely focused on getting out of the gym. He allowed himself to be dragged through the doors, and it wasn’t until she slowed so that he could sign her out that he saw she was close to tears.

She looked away immediately, sniffling.

“Lydia?” Derek asked, crouching. “Lydia, what’s wrong? What happened?”

“’m fine,” Lydia insisted while staring at the floor.

Lydia.”

“Not here,” Lydia muttered, digging the toe of her shoe into the linoleum. “I’ll look like stupid baby.”

Derek sighed, restraining himself from pulling her in from a hug anyway, and instead contented himself with running a gentle hand through Lydia’s hair and pressing a quick kiss to her forehead (which got him an annoyed, “Daddy!”) before he stood up to sign her out.

He waited until they got into the car to ask what had happened.

“Erica had a—a see-gur,” Lydia said haltingly, from her huddle in the backseat.

Derek, who had been about to turn the ignition, stopped. “She had a seizure? In school?”

Lydia nodded. “It was when we were doing Around the World, with adding. She just started shaking and fell on the ground, and then the nurse came and they took her away ‘cause she wasn’t moving anymore. Mrs. Phelps said that that’s what Erica being sick means, that she does that sometimes, but you said that that’s why she doesn’t eat stuff or run around. You lied.”

“I didn’t lie,” Derek said, before he could stop himself.

“You said if she did that stuff, she wouldn’t get sick,” Lydia said accusingly, glaring. “You said that. And she got sick anyway.”

“I wasn’t lying,” Derek repeated. “Lydia, I was just—simplifying. Doing those things is supposed to keep Erica from having seizures, but it doesn’t mean that it will.”

“That’s stupid,” Lydia said, sniffling. “It should work.”

“It should,” Derek agreed. “But it doesn’t.”

“Stupid,” Lydia repeated, crossing her arms and sitting back. Her lower lip quivered.

“I know,” Derek said quietly.

 

 

Heard Erica had a seizure. Hope everything is okay.

 

 

Lydia didn’t cry on the way home. After a long silence, she eventually told Derek about how she had badgered the whole class (this wasn’t the verb that Lydia used, but Derek knew his daughter) into making Erica get well soon cards, and that Mrs. Phelps had given her a big white envelope for all of the cards, which was in Lydia’s Take Home folder right now.

So she didn’t cry. But when Derek parked the car at the apartment complex, and held out his arms for Lydia, she did allow herself to be picked up. She wrapped her arms around his neck and quietly laid her head down, comfortably settled against him for the journey up to the fourth floor, sniffling only a little.

 

 

Finally home from the hospital. She’s in bed, resting, but she’ll be okay. In school again Friday.

Lydia has cards for her from the class and wants to see her. Is Erica up for company?

Erica says yes. Come after 7—we’re having an emergency Skype session at 6 w/the family.

 

 

Lydia kicked the back of Derek’s seat for the entire length of the drive to the Stilinski household. When they arrived, though, she became oddly reticent, and lingered behind him on the walk up to the front door. When Stiles opened the door, Lydia was standing behind Derek’s leg, gripping the denim of his jeans in a way that was reminiscent of her toddler years.

Stiles answered the door looking tired, but happy to see them despite it. “Hey, guys. Thanks for coming over.”

“Thanks for having us,” Derek replied, placing a gently hand on Lydia’s back to steer her forward.

“Hi, Lydia,” Stiles said, kneeling down so that they were at eye level. “I hear you have something for Erica?”

Lydia nodded. “Cards,” she said quietly, clutching the canvas bag. “An’ Trouble, if Erica wants to play.”

“The board game,” Derek said in an undertone.

“It’s really good,” Lydia promised.

Stiles grinned. “I think she might, especially if you’re the one to play with her. We’ve been playing with her action figures, but I’m just a boring old dad, so I’m not as good. Let’s go see her, okay? She’s in her room.”

“’Kay,” said Lydia, taking Stiles’ hand. “She’s not sleeping?”

“She took a nap earlier today, after we got home from the doctor’s,” Stiles told her, “so she’s awake right now. But she’s got some bumps and bruises from falling earlier, and her muscles still aren’t working quite right, so that’s why she’s still in bed.”

“Did the doctor say why she got a seizure?” Lydia asked.

Stiles shook his head. “No. It’s just part of Erica’s disease. Erica can explain it to you, if you ask her. She’s got some really good books about having epilepsy.”

Lydia nodded.

When Stiles pushed back the door to Erica’s room, it was immediately apparent that Erica’s room was the most unpacked room in the house. Her walls were the same blank white as the rest of the house, but there were fluffy rugs on the carpet, curtains on the windows, books in the bookcase, and clothes in the closet. There were only two cardboard boxes in the corner, and even those were at least half-unpacked.

“Lydia!” Erica said happily, looking up from a busy scene of Barbie dolls and superhero action figures on her bed. They appeared to be having some kind of party (or perhaps a battle, it wasn’t clear) on the summit of Erica’s pillow. The coveted mermaid Barbie was on the bedspread off to the side, either sunbathing or dead from battle wounds.

“Hi,” Lydia said, slowly stepping into the room.

“Hi, Mr. Hale,” Erica added, belatedly noticing Derek.

“Hey,” Derek replied, smiling warmly at her. “How are you feeling?”

“I’m okay,” Erica said. “Daddy’s making me stay home from school tomorrow, though,” she added, shooting her father a look.

“Ah—the doctor said that you should stay home from school,” Stiles corrected.

Erica made a face. “But tomorrow’s music.”

“We can listen to music tomorrow. We can even Skype Uncle Scott, and he can teach you one of his campfire songs,” Stiles promised.

"Not the same,” Erica muttered.

“I know,” Stiles said sympathetically. “But you know what? Lydia’s got some awesome stuff for you in her bag right now.”

Erica brightened at this. “Really?”

“Yeah,” Lydia said, walking over to the bed hesitantly. “The whole class made you cards, even Jackson. Wanna see?”

“Yes!” Erica said, sweeping her Barbies and action figures to the side to make room for Lydia.

“Do you need anything?” Stiles asked Erica.

“Nope!”

“Okay. Just yell if you do.”

“’Kay,” Erica said distractedly, already absorbed in the pile of cards that Lydia had dumped out on the bed.

Stiles closed the door partly, and turned around to face Derek. He blinked multiple times, as if his brain had to recalibrate before he could speak again.

“Okay,” Stiles said after a few seconds, giving his head a shake. “Can I get you anything? Coffee? Tea? I found the tea, actually, it was in with one of the crafting tubs. I think I threw it in there when I was repacking what Erica unpacked. Or maybe there was just extra room and I was tired of sorting by room. I don’t know why I packed it in the first place—it’s not even very good tea, it’s just that cheap Celestial Seasonings stuff. I hope you’re not a tea snob. You’re not, are you?”

“Nope,” Derek said, and gripped Stiles’ shoulders to steer him toward the living room. “I don’t drink tea. I don’t need anything. We’re going to sit down.”

“Rambling,” Stiles muttered, clearly annoyed with himself.

In the living room, Derek noticed that the maps that Lydia and Erica had cut out had been placed in frames and hung on the wall. Closer examination revealed that it was actually a roadmap that detailed Michigan, New York, New Hampshire, Vermont, and a large section of southern Ontario. Gwinn, MI and Albany, NY were both circled in black marker.

“Do you need anything?” Derek asked, as Stiles collapsed onto the couch.

Stiles groaned. “Whiskey.”

Derek glanced at the kitchen, but alcohol was not on display anywhere.

“No, no, not really,” Stiles sighed, waving a hand at Derek. “Don’t worry about it. I’m fine. This is far from our first seizure.”

“But she’s on that trial?” Derek asked, sitting down on the couch next to Stiles. “That’s why you moved here.”

Stiles nodded. “Yeah. It was getting really good results, but it’s still a few months from dose-ranging trials. This just means that… Erica’s probably on the placebo.”

“Better that she’s on the placebo, than the meds just not working for her, right?” Derek asked tentatively.

“Yep,” Stiles said. He sighed heavily. “Crap. Now I have to learn how to reverse doors. Crap, crap, crap. I’m such an idiot. I should have known this wouldn’t work.”

"I can help,” Derek offered.

“No, man, you don’t have to do that,” Stiles said with a frown, patting Derek’s arm. “Seriously. You’re already saving Daddy Do’s. I can’t ask you to do that, too, it’s—”

“I’ll help,” Derek said firmly. “We can do it on Saturday, before we go trick-or-treating.”

Stiles smiled faintly. “You’re too good for me, Derek Hale.”

“I’ll remember that, when I accidentally saw through one of your walls,” Derek replied.

Stiles snorted.

From Erica’s room, an enthusiastic but unmelodious rendition of Down by the Bay sounded out.

“Oh, God,” Stiles groaned quietly, flopping back.

Derek got up to find the whiskey.

 

 

Derek didn’t saw into the wall. He did, however, accidentally splinter off a section of the door with a quiet cracking sound and a muttered oath.

Two heads immediately poked out from Erica’s room, Erica with a wild mane of springy curls that would be sprayed red later tonight, and Lydia with devil’s horns braided on top of her head with red pipe cleaners.

Oooo,” they said in unison.

“You broke the door,” Erica observed.

“And you said a bad word,” Lydia added, looking at Derek.

“Gotta put a quarter in the swear jar,” Erica told him.

Lydia turned to look at Erica. “What’s a swear jar?”

“It’s where I get money when Daddy swears,” Erica said.

Lydia’s eyes went wide. “You get money?

“One time when Grandpa broke his finger, I got two whole dollars,” Erica said proudly.

“Yes, thank you, the peanut gallery is dismissed,” Stiles interrupted, making a shooing motion when he was met with protests. “Back to your bedroom. We can talk about financial compensation for defiling your ears later.”

“Sorry about your door,” Derek muttered, as the girls disappeared.

“That’s okay,” Stiles said, looking unbothered. “I think I have wood glue somewhere. I think. I might have decided to throw it out instead of pack it. But I definitely have super glue. That works the same, right?”

“Uh,” said Derek, and texted his father.

A minute later, his phone rang.

“Did I teach you nothing, kid?”

So, Stiles went off to the garage in search of wood glue and a utility knife—something that would also be necessary, according to Ben—while Derek was quizzed by Talia on how Lydia liked the mermaid Barbie that had arrived for her in the mail on Friday, and then lectured by Ben on how one was supposed to go about reversing doors. Derek’s feeble protests that they had looked up instructions on the internet did not impress him.

Stiles was still not back by the time Derek was able to hang up. But barely seconds after he had pocketed his phone, Lydia appeared.

In her excitement, she had insisted on wearing her costume all day long today. It turned out that a fairy princess demon witch costume was comprised of a fluffy pink princess dress, sparkling fairy wings, devil horns, and the striped tights and buckled boots of a witch—though Lydia was only allowed to wear the boots outside, as Derek had quickly discovered that they had a tendency to leave black scuff marks everywhere. And, of course, there were the nunchucks.

“Daaaaaaddy,” Lydia said sweetly, coming up to him with her hands clasped innocently behind her back.

Out of the corner of his eye, Derek saw blonde curls disappearing down the hallway.

He raised an eyebrow.

“Can I sleep over Erica’s house tonight? Like how we talked about?” Lydia asked.

“We… didn’t talk about it,” Derek said slowly. “You mentioned it and I—”

“Mr. S says it’s okay with him if it’s okay with you,” Lydia interrupted.

Derek frowned. “He did?”

Lydia nodded. “Yep.”

“I don’t know,” Derek said hesitantly, remembering the last sleepover Lydia had gone to—a Girl Scout lock-in at the YMCA, which had gone well, but had also left him with an extremely cranky Lydia the following day.

“You can sleep over too, with Mr. S!” Lydia suggested brightly.

Derek flushed. “Uh. No. We’re a little too old for sleepovers, Lydia. We’re adults.”

“Aunt Cora has adult sleepovers,” Lydia said knowledgeably. “Lots of times. Sometimes even on school nights. And Mr. S has a really big bed, so you wouldn’t even have to sleep on the couch!”

“Ah,” said Derek, his face flaming. “Lydia. When adults have sleepovers, it’s—it’s because they’re dating. Not just because they’re friends.”

“But you wanna date—”

“Lydia!” Derek hissed.

Lydia looked up at him guilelessly. “What?”

Derek took in a deep breath, and willed himself to stop blushing, with little success. “I’m not going to have a sleepover with Mr. S.”

“Well, can I sleepover?”

“Mr. S said it was okay?” Derek asked.

“Yep,” Lydia said, nodding.

Derek sighed, relieved to at least be off the topic of his feelings for Stiles. “Fine.”

“Yes!” Lydia threw her arms around Derek’s legs, squeezing tightly. “Thank you, Daddy!”

“You’re welcome,” Derek replied, taking deep breaths.

 

 

When Stiles came back in, with both wood glue and a utility knife, Erica was running ahead of him, beaming. She too was already dressed in her costume—an emerald green dress and a quiver of arrows—and as she passed Derek, she gave him a bright smile before disappearing into her room, where Lydia was waiting.

“Just to check,” Stiles said, as he approached, “it’s okay if Lydia spends the night tonight?”

“Of course,” Derek replied.

Stiles nodded, handing over the wood glue. “All right. Erica said that you were okay with it, but I just wanted to make sure.”

Derek paused. “She said that?”

“Yeah,” Stiles said, looking at Derek questioningly. “Why?”

“Just now, in the garage?”

Stiles nodded.

Derek sighed. “While Erica was telling you that I was already okay with it, Lydia was in here, telling me that you were already okay with it.” 

Stiles’ mouth dropped open. “Oh my God. Those sneaks. And that’s why Erica was—” He cut himself off, and sighed heavily.

“What?” Derek asked.

“Nothing,” Stiles said, rolling his eyes. “Erica just started asking about 'adult sleepovers', of all things, to get me flustered. God knows where she even got that idea in her head.”

“Oh,” said Derek, who had a dreadful suspicion.

“Um. Because I don't have those,” Stiles said hastily. “Adult sleepovers, I mean. I haven’t. Not since Erica was born. And not really before she was born, either. But, you know that, I told you that, we already talked about me being bargain-bin merchandise when it comes to dating—”

“I don’t think that,” Derek blurted out, then immediately wanted to die.

Stiles stared, wide-eyed. “You… uh... You think I’m…”

“You’re—” Derek stared at the floor. “You know. Not bad.”

“Not bad?”  

“To look at,” Derek added. “I mean—I mean cute, in a—guy way. A. You’re cute. Very nice. Don’t underestimate yourself.”

“Oh,” Stiles said, eyebrows sky high. “Well. Thanks.”

“You’re welcome,” Derek answered weakly.

“For the record,” Stiles said, with a tentative smile, “I… think you’re cute in a guy way, too.”

Derek flushed. “Thanks,” he mumbled.

Stiles hesitated. “And, you know. I—I like that you volunteer at the soup kitchen. And actually try to ward off vampires, instead of just telling Lydia that they’re not real. And Skype with your family every week. And the way there’s always glitter stuck to your clothing somewhere.”

“I—” Derek’s heart was pounding at approximately ten thousand miles an hour. “I can’t. I mean. I’m not ready to—”

“I know!” Stiles said quickly. “No, no, I know. I get it. I’m just saying that—that if you’re open to having… adult sleepovers… someday. Then I am, too.”

“Okay,” Derek said. He wanted to say that he liked the way Stiles laughed, the maps on his walls, the stupid Stringamajig thing, the way that he would patiently braid Erica’s and Lydia’s hair into identical styles whenever they asked, his magic hands—but he couldn’t. It sounded stupid, and his heart was pounding too hard, and he just couldn’t. All he could manage was a stuttered, “I—I might. Someday.”

“Okay,” Stiles said, beaming.

Derek nodded. “Okay.”

“So. Doors?” Stiles asked.

“Doors,” Derek agreed.