The doorbell rings.
Scott and Allison just left with the U-Haul; did one of them forget something? Stiles needs to have keys made, so he won't have to unbury himself from heaps of packing materials and half-empty boxes every time Scott drops by.
"Dad, can you—"
"Your door, you answer it," his dad shouts back. Stiles gets a small thrill from that: his door. His overpriced rental door, but whatever, it's his.
"Hey," he says, swinging the door open. "Did you—" Not Scott. "Hi?"
There are two beaming senior citizens on his doorstep. Wait, no — one beaming woman clutching a casserole, and one judgy, thin-lipped woman who looks like she doesn't want to be there but was dragged along anyway.
"We're your neighbors at 325," says Cheerful, shoving the casserole at his chest. He just barely manages to grab the casserole before it drops, juggling it a bit before he hugs it to him, trying to subtly sniff out what's under the foil. "It's macaroni and cheese with bacon."
Stiles makes an embarrassing noise and clutches the casserole closer. "You're my favorite."
Judgy snorts. Cheerful steps on her foot.
"I'm Stiles," he says, shifting the casserole to one arm and holding out a hand to shake.
"Betty," Cheerful — Betty — says. "This is Joyce. I'm sure you have a lot of unpacking to do, we won't keep you."
"Oh, I — nice to meet you?" They brought him food and they don't want to stay? Stiles loves them already.
His dad comes into the front hallway, peering over his shoulder. "Did I hear mac and cheese?"
"Dad, these are my neighbors to the right, Betty and Joyce," Stiles says, gesturing with the casserole. "This is my dad."
"I've seen your picture," Betty says, looking terribly pleased. "You're the sheriff."
"That's me," his dad says, in this aw-shucks voice he only ever uses on old ladies. "Thank you for the casserole, that's very considerate of you. I'm sure Stiles said thank you, too, didn't you, Stiles?"
"Thank you," Stiles says. His dad pats him on the back.
The mac and cheese is fantastic. When he returns the dish, Betty gives him a bag of cookies and sends him on his way without making him stay for tea.
Best neighbors ever.
He meets the guy in 329 a few days later.
Meets is being generous. He ... encounters the guy in 329. He sees a figure moving in the unlit dark of 329's back yard, calls out a friendly, "hey," and approaches the white picket fence between their yards, waving. If that's 329, he can meet another neighbor; if it isn't, maybe he can scare off someone about to commit burglary.
The person in 329's yard ignores him completely, not so much as pausing to glance in his direction. It looks like 329's potential burglar is — weeding. In the dark.
"You must have incredible night vision," Stiles says, slinging his arms over the fence. "I can't see much of anything out here, the porch light doesn't go very far."
Mysterious Gardening Man continues to ignore him.
"But I'm thinking of adding some floodlights," Stiles says, jerking a thumb back at the house. "To discourage B&E. You know, in case anyone was considering it. Which you're probably not, but FYI."
"Nice to meet you," Stiles says. He stands there a few minutes longer making inane comments about night vision and stubborn weeds and the importance of gardening gloves, waiting to see if Mysterious Gardening Man will give in and talk to him.
He doesn't. He tunes Stiles out like he's been doing it for years.
Stiles will just have to try harder next time. No one can ignore him forever.
"Joyce, hey," Stiles says, waving. Joyce shoots a long-suffering look at the sky, but she stops on the sidewalk, arms folded, and waits for him to catch up. "About the guy in 329—"
"I don't do neighborhood gossip," Joyce interrupts.
Stiles knows the difference between a definite no and an opening to negotiate.
"Tell me everything you know, and I'll mow your lawn for a month," he says. He isn't sure how to up the ante if she rejects that offer. Two months? Three? How badly does he want this information, anyway?
"He's lived there for six years, he's elusive as Sasquatch, and Betty is convinced he's single," Joyce says without hesitation. "He's about your age, maybe a little older."
"That's it?" That isn't much to go on. "Is he hot?"
Joyce gives him a look that says, I knew it. "If you're into surly, hairy types, maybe."
Stiles is into pretty much every type, particularly the ones not interested in so much as acknowledging his existence.
"Thanks," he says, distracted.
"I want this lawn mowed by the end of the week," Joyce says.
It's Joyce's fault, really.
There's a tiny shed in Stiles' yard with barely enough room for a lawnmower, a rake, and a spade. Left to his own devices, Stiles probably would've let his lawn become a jungle and never so much as touched the lawnmower, so yeah, Joyce's fault, all the way.
His attempts to get out the lawnmower result in the spade going over the picket fence.
Stiles leans over the fence, inspecting the damage. There's a leafy green thing in a pot right there, so of course his spade landed on top of it, crushing a few of the leaves and popping off a spiky pink flower bud.
"I was never here," he whispers to the plant, stretching down to retrieve the spade.
Maybe Mysterious Neighbor Guy won't notice.
The weather that night is pleasantly cool. Stiles slouches down into a thickly cushioned chair on his back porch and props his feet up on the rail, a bottle of beer in one hand.
This is the most comfy he's ever been. He might never move again.
"You," someone hisses from a shadowed corner of the yard. Stiles jerks upright with a startled yelp, spilling beer all over himself.
"Don't come any closer, I'm armed," Stiles says, wishing the porch light didn't make it that much harder to see into the shadows. A few yards from where he's sitting, a tall shape shifts impatiently, heaving a loud sigh. "What are you doing in my yard?"
"I'm not in your yard," Creepy Nighttime Lurker says irritably. "I'm in my yard, looking at what's left of my night-blooming cereus."
Oh, shit. Creepy Nighttime Lurker is Mysterious Neighbor Guy.
By the tone of his voice, Mysterious Neighbor Guy must have figured out that Stiles is the one who squashed his night-blooming whatever.
It wasn't like he did it on purpose. The white picket fence between their yards is mostly decorative; it doesn't do much to prevent mishaps, and Stiles just happens to be Mishap Central.
"Oh," Stiles says awkwardly, standing. He abandons his mostly empty bottle on the porch rail and approaches the fence warily, hands on his hips. Stiles hasn't managed to unpack yet and he's already pissing off the neighbors, that's typical. "Um. Sorry?"
"If you were really sorry, you would've told me you did it and apologized," Angry Neighbor Guy says, sounding a lot like Stiles' third grade teacher.
In the dark, Angry Neighbor Guy is all broad shoulders, strong jaw, and vague impressions of eyebrows, nose, and mouth. From Joyce's description, Stiles was expecting a full beard, shaggy hair, something, but maybe her standards of surly and hairy are different than his.
Stiles peers over the fence. He can't see the plant in question, but it didn't look all that badly damaged earlier. Angry Neighbor Guy is being incredibly melodramatic about all this.
"I am sorry," Stiles says. He is, he's sorry, he felt guilty the second he did it. A little guilty, anyway — it was a flower bud, he assumed there would be more flowers where that one came from. "I honestly thought it would grow back, I didn't know it was a — night-blooming something."
"Night-blooming cereus." Angry Neighbor Guy sounds vaguely homicidal. Stiles has never heard anyone make the name of a flower sound menacing before, he's almost impressed.
"Yeah, that," Stiles says.
"In ten years, I've seen it bloom twice," Angry Neighbor Guy says. Oh god, Stiles crushed his twice-a-decade flower, maybe Angry Neighbor Guy really is going to kill him.
Stiles winces, rubbing a hand over the back of his head. "Maybe keep it a little further away from me, just to be safe?"
"You're a fucking menace," Angry Neighbor Guy mutters. Stiles' eyes have adjusted to the darkness well enough for him to see the furious scowl he's getting. It should be terrifying, but mostly it's just hot, the kind of hot that makes Stiles want to accidentally drop more things over the fence to rile up Angry Neighbor Guy on a regular basis.
"I get that a lot," Stiles says. He peers into the guy's yard, making out more flowers further back, a lot more flowers than he's seen by daylight. "Are all your flowers night-blooming?"
"No," Angry Neighbor Guy says, clearly meaning, you're an idiot.
"But some of them are." Stiles leans over the fence a little, fascinated. "You have a night garden, that's awesome."
Angry Neighbor Guy opens his mouth and closes it again, staring at Stiles. Yeah, Stiles gets that a lot, too.
He stands there a moment longer, waiting to see if Angry Neighbor Guy has anything to add. "Okay, I'm gonna—" He waves an arm at the porch. "Yeah. Sorry! Bye."
He drinks the rest of his beer inside the house. Chances are good he may never use the back porch again.
He sits on the back porch again the next night. Of course he does.
At 9:30, Potentially Homicidal Neighbor Guy's back door swings open, throwing a long column of light into his yard. He stops with one foot out the door, head swinging toward Stiles. He's just a tall, oddly handsome silhouette against the light spilling out of the house, but Stiles knows the grumpy scowl is there, even if he can't see it.
"Evening," Stiles calls out.
"Stay away from my fence," Grudge Holding Neighbor Guy snaps back.
"Technically, it's my fence," Stiles says. "My landlord's fence? Someone's fence, but not yours."
The door swings shut, returning Potentially Homicidal Neighbor Guy's yard to darkness. He doesn't say anything further, just lets the angry silence stretch out and out while he moves around in his yard and Stiles nervously picks at the soggy label on his bottle of beer.
Stiles' overactive imagination starts to run wild. He imagines a pair of glowing blue eyes in the dark, glaring at him, and once he's imagined it he keeps imagining it, seeing periodic flickers of blue across the fence.
At 10:30, Stiles decides he's held out for a respectable amount of time and retreats into the house, vowing to leave the guy alone from now on.
"Evening," Stiles calls out.
Probably Not Homicidal Neighbor Guy only grunts in response, not pausing to glare at Stiles this time.
"Hey, you should tell me your name," Stiles says. "I can make up my own names for you just fine, but they're getting pretty complicated."
"My name is Stiles." Stiles salutes him with a can of Mountain Dew.
"I don't care."
"Come on, dude."
Stupidly Stubborn Neighbor Guy makes an aggravated sound. "If I tell you my name, will you go away?"
"Probably not," Stiles admits.
"Then my name is none of your damned business."
"Unless you tell me your name, that's how I'm going to introduce you to my friends, just so you know," Stiles says.
"You aren't going to introduce me to your friends," None of Your Damned Business says, unconcerned.
"Then you shouldn't hang out in your yard tomorrow, because I'm having people," Stiles waves a hand, "over, to hang out, here. At night. In my yard. Tomorrow." He can invite people. Tomorrow is a Thursday, none of them are likely to have big plans on a Thursday night.
"Stop talking," None of Your Damned Business says, retreating to the far end of his yard.
Stiles thinks they're making progress.
All of his friends have plans for Thursday night. Almost all — Allison comes over with a margarita mix and a bag of chips, and they sit on Stiles' back porch and whisper about Still Nameless Neighbor Guy, who moves around in his yard and pointedly ignores them.
"He's out here every night," Stiles whispers. "Gardening. In the dark."
"How does he see what he's doing? He doesn't have a single light on in his yard," Allison whispers back.
"He must have really good night vision," Stiles whispers, shrugging. "I guess the whole point of the night garden thing would be lost if he put floodlights on it."
"Maybe we should offer him a margarita," Allison suggests, grinning.
"Hey," Stiles calls out, "do you want a—"
"No," Mr. Gardening in the Dark says, voice sharp with irritation.
"You don't even know what I was going to—"
"No," Mr. Gardening in the Dark repeats.
"Cranky," Allison whispers, giggling.
"You have no idea," Stiles says, reaching for the margarita pitcher.
The next two nights he's out late, too late to successfully harass the guy in 329. By Sunday night, there's finally enough moonlight for Stiles to see by, and hey, hey, wow.
The moonlight catches on white flowers of all kinds, tiny trailing ones and big bushy ones and huge lilies. The night-blooming cereus is in the far corner of the yard now, its plain green leaves not nearly as magnificent in the light as its elusive white flower would've been. Stiles Googled it, he's seen the pictures and the time-lapse videos.
Surly Neighbor Guy is definitely justified in holding a grudge against him.
Justifiably Grudge Holding Neighbor Guy opens the back door, glances over at the fence, and sighs loudly.
"What do you want, Stiles?"
"Nothing," Stiles says quickly, gesturing at the flowers. "I was just admiring your work. I'll bet it looks amazing during the full moon."
Surly Neighbor Guy is giving him that look again, the I have no idea what to say to you look. It's like he's only capable of communicating with Stiles if Stiles is being obnoxious and he's being a jerk; the second Stiles says something nice, he gets nothing but awkward silence.
Stiles can see him better in the moonlight, too, can see laugh lines and cheekbones and stubble.
He'd kill for some cloud cover. He feels less awkward when he can't see how stupidly attractive the man is.
"Uh, so," Stiles says. Uh, so? Suave. Real suave.
"My name is Derek," Surly Neighbor Guy says.
"Derek," Stiles repeats. Derek. That's so much more normal than Stiles was expecting from a dude whose primary hobby is gardening in the dark. "Not, like, Pain Blackthorn or Raven Moonflower? I should get you an emo name generator, you're missing an opportunity here."
Derek rolls his eyes, turning away.
Stiles leans against the fence, watching him work. Derek doesn't call him out on being a creeper or yell at him to go away, he just putters around for a few minutes and then drops onto a deck chair, acting like Stiles isn't there.
That's progress, too, of a sort.
Stiles isn't sure why he's keeping track, but he is. There's a steady upward curve to their interactions, from hostility to annoyance to whatever this is, tolerance, maybe. Derek is tolerating him now. Stiles knows his name now, that could almost be taken for a friendly overture.
"Stiles," Derek says, not looking over.
Stiles clears his throat. "Yeah?"
"Go away," Derek says. He doesn't sound annoyed or mean, though, he sounds — something else. Something new.
"Okay," Stiles says, his throat strangely tight. "Bye, Derek."
"See you tomorrow," Derek says.
Betty knocks on his front door on Monday morning. She has pie.
"This is for you and your young man in 329," she says, ecstatic.
"He isn't my young man," Stiles says, staring. "For one, he's at least thirty, and for another, we aren't together. We've barely even—"
"Oh, honey, I know," Betty says, patting his arm. "But don't worry, you'll get him."
"It isn't like that." Stiles leans through the doorway, peering over at 329. Derek's car is in the driveway. Please let him be dead to the world and not hearing any of this, please. "How did you even, what makes you think—?"
"We've seen you out there every night, flirting," Betty says. She makes it sound like Stiles' attempts to get Derek to warm up to him have been must-see TV. "Do you want me to talk to him?"
"No," Stiles says quickly. "No, not at all, please don't."
"Give him some pie," Betty says, tapping the tinfoil. "It's blueberry."
"I'm not going to give him pie." Stiles tries to hand the pie back to her. She smiles at him, hands clasped in front of her. "This is a bad idea, and I'm not going to do it."
"I need you to eat some of this," Stiles says, balancing the pie tin on the points of the fence. Derek sets down a hand spade, peels off his gloves, and approaches warily, eyeing the pie tin like it might explode. "Do you know the couple in 325?"
"The nosy old ladies," Derek says, lifting the foil to investigate the pie.
"The nice old ladies," Stiles says. Betty is nice. Joyce accepts that he isn't going away and lets him help her with things, that's probably her equivalent of being nice. "Are watching from their kitchen window right now, probably."
"Yes," Derek says, gaze flicking over Stiles' shoulder and down again.
"There will be no peace for either of us until they see us eating this pie, so just—" Stiles holds out a fork. "Eat some, and then I'll leave you alone for the night."
Derek shrugs, takes the fork, and pulls off the tinfoil, balling it up and sticking it in his pocket. Stiles expected more of a fight than this; Derek must really want Stiles out of his hair.
"People usually slice pie," Derek says, fork hovering over the unbroken crust.
"Let's just get this over with," Stiles says, stabbing his fork into the pie. "We aren't at a formal dinner, we're just—"
"Getting some gossipy old crones to leave you alone?"
"You'd better hope Joyce didn't hear you say that," Stiles hisses.
Derek smiles, eyes on the pie as he scoops up a bit of blueberry filling.
Stiles loses track of things for a moment, fork frozen halfway to his mouth. His face goes hot, sweat breaking out on the back of his neck. Maybe it's too dark for Derek to notice he's blushing. Blushing, because Derek smiled, ugh, this is just sad.
"Hmm," Derek says, testing the filling. "I've had worse. Do they bring you pie a lot?"
"This is the first time," Stiles says, making himself eat a bite. I've had worse must be Derekspeak for this is the best pie ever. Stiles makes a pleased noise, going back for more. "There've been a couple casseroles. And some cookies."
"They never brought me a casserole," Derek mutters.
"They call you Sasquatch," Stiles informs him. "Because you're elusive, which I think is code for grumpy and asocial."
Derek takes another bite of pie, denying nothing.
They stand at the fence and eat pie in silence. Stiles only meant for them to take a few bites for show, but somehow half the pie disappears, and then three quarters, and then the pie tin is empty and they're still standing there, awkwardly holding their forks, like more pie might magically appear.
"I think I just overdosed on pie," Stiles says, wincing. "Are they still watching?"
"No," Derek says, dropping his fork into the tin. "They haven't been for a while."
But Derek kept eating pie anyway? Either he really loves blueberry pie, or — but, no, he didn't say a word the entire time, so it's probably the pie.
"Thanks for helping," Stiles says.
"Let me know if there's more pie," Derek says.
That sounds a lot like let's do this again.
"I told you it would work," Betty says, shoving a covered dish at Stiles. "This is chicken Florentine. You should invite him over."
"No," Stiles says.
Stiles stands up as Derek's back door swings open, waving. Derek hesitates a moment before waving back, letting the door fall shut behind him.
"Have you had dinner?"
"Dinner?" Derek approaches the fence, smirking. "Not pie?"
"Betty brought me a casserole, shut up about it," Stiles says, staying on his porch. "It's chicken, do you want some or not?" He makes a casual gesture with a bottle of root beer, indicating that Derek should come over.
He practiced this. If Derek says no, he has a joke planned in response.
Derek hops the fence in one smooth movement, strolling across Stiles' lawn. Derek is in his yard. Derek is approaching his back porch, Derek is on his porch steps, Stiles wasn't entirely prepared for Derek to actually say yes, he has nothing scripted for this.
He's seeing Derek in good lighting for the first time. He wasn't prepared for that, either. Derek is — is — annoying, is what he is. Annoyingly good-looking. Stiles wants to lodge a protest.
He has got to get a grip.
Derek sits on the top step, angled in. Stiles gets it together enough to make them both plates and hands one to Derek, sitting next to him on the step, their knees brushing.
Is this a date? It has all the hallmarks of a date: food, casual touching, the steady, curious way Derek is watching him, the anxiety bubbling up under his skin. He presses his knee more firmly to Derek's, just to see what Derek will do.
"This is good," Derek says, pressing back lightly. "Are we eating for show again?"
Stiles takes a deep breath, clears his throat, fidgets with his fork.
"No," he says. "It's not for show." He ducks his head, focusing intently on his food.
He's expecting silence, at best, so he's surprised when Derek says:
"All right," voice too soft to be casual, and yeah, this is a date.
They don't talk about it, or talk about much of anything, really. Stiles goes on and on about some of the more obscure, outdated town laws he's read lately, and Derek eats his chicken with the silent devotion of a guy who probably never cooks hot meals.
If Stiles told Betty that, there would be so many casseroles.
When they're done eating, Derek trails his fingers over Stiles' shoulder on his way down the steps. Stiles leans into it, heart beating too fast, everything wildly askew.
Derek smiles at Stiles before he hops the fence, slowly making his way back into the house.
Stiles sits on the top step for a while after, grinning helplessly.
"You should come over for the full moon," Derek says. He runs a hand through his hair, frowning. Is he nervous about asking Stiles over? That might be too cute for Stiles to deal with. "It's in a few days, it'll look, it'll be better on this side of the fence."
"Your emo night garden, you mean," Stiles says, enjoying this way too much.
Derek huffs in annoyance. "Do you want to come over, or don't you?"
"I'm coming over," Stiles stays, tapping two fingers against the back of Derek's hand where it's curled around a fence post. "Do you want me to bring anything? A casserole? Pie?"
Derek shakes his head, pulling his hand back.
Stiles tips his head toward Betty and Joyce's house. "Are they watching us?"
"Yes," Derek says, not even looking at the house. He scowls, the tips of his ears darkening. "They think they're funny."
"I'll bet they do," Stiles says, not sure where that came from. "If they're watching, odds are there'll be food whether we like it or not."
"I don't care. Bring food, don't bring food, I don't care, just come over."
"Okay," Stiles says, smiling.
"Okay," Derek echoes, nodding decisively.
Stiles prints out a lunar calendar and tapes it to his fridge. He runs his fingers over the phases of the moon, moving backwards, tracing this tentative thing he has with Derek back to its start.
They met at the tail end of a waning moon. Only two weeks and change have passed since then. It's all felt slow as molasses, lived in real time, but looking back on it, things have been moving pretty quickly.
Stiles pestered Derek out of his shell in less than a month. Go, Stiles.
"I've never seen you in the daylight," Stiles says, two nights before the full moon. "I'm starting to think you're a vampire."
Derek snorts. "I'm not a vampire."
"That's exactly what a vampire would say," Stiles says. He leans against the fence, ticking things off on his fingers and trying not to spill his root beer in the process. "You only come out at night, that's the big one. You have a night-blooming garden, totally something a vampire would do." He grins. "Sometimes I could swear I see your eyes glowing in the dark."
A weird silence follows. Derek's shoulders have gone stiff, his hands curling into fists at his sides.
"My eyes don't glow in the dark," he says. He sounds like he's trying to sell Stiles something. The dismissive tone of I'm not a vampire is gone, something awkward and unconvincing left in its place.
"Holy shit, your eyes glow in the dark," Stiles says, dropping his bottle over the fence in his shock. "Why do your eyes glow in the dark? Are you a vampire? You are, aren't you? I was joking."
"I'm not a vampire," Derek says, awkwardness giving way to annoyance.
"Yes, you are," Stiles says, increasingly sure he's on to something. He's seen Derek eat, but the past several decades of teen shows have been firm on the point that vampires can eat real food. Derek's hair is too carefully styled for the guy not to have a reflection, but Stiles doesn't think the laws of physics support vampires not having reflections.
"No, I'm not," Derek says, irritation growing, and there it is, the bright blue glow Stiles wasn't imagining.
Derek's face does a thing.
"Point taken," Stiles says, staring. "Not a vampire."
"Dammit," Derek mutters, hunching his shoulders. "I didn't mean to — you—" He lurches forward, grabs a handful of Stiles' shirt, and yanks him closer, the points of the fence digging into Stiles' stomach. "You can't tell anyone."
Derek sounds more desperate than threatening, but the fangs and the eyes and the weird sideburns make it all more than a little bit terrifying.
"Let me go," Stiles says, voice shaking.
Derek makes the scariest noise Stiles has ever heard. He sounds like he's about to bite Stiles' face off, and while Stiles might enjoy some face biting in a less threatening, sexier context, he's not a fan of it right now.
"Okay, okay, not telling anyone, don't kill me," Stiles says hastily, holding up his hands. "Come on, Derek, let me go."
The second Derek lets go, Stiles scrambles back, putting himself out of reach. Derek hasn't had any trouble hopping the fence before, but the slight barrier between them at least gives Stiles the illusion of safety.
Further away, Derek doesn't look so scary. He looks scared, scared of Stiles. Stiles has never been scary before. He doesn't like the way it feels.
"I'm not going to tell anyone," he says, softer, holding his arms out to show just how not scary he is. "I promise."
Derek just stands there, watching him warily.
Stiles doesn't want to turn his back on Derek, but he also really wants to put some space between himself and Derek's fangs. He waits a minute longer before breaking first, turning and bolting into the house.
He stands in the kitchen, hands spread out on the counter, shaking. Outside, there's the slam of a car door and the rumble of an engine. Derek is leaving. Good.
Derek is a werewolf.
Werewolves are real.
Stiles has so much research to do.
There's a knock on the door around seven in the morning. Stiles answers the door in track pants and a band shirt so old he can't see the name of the band anymore, his hair sticking straight up, a splash of coffee sticky on the back of one arm.
He hasn't slept yet. He's been up all night, reading werewolf lore and werewolf conspiracies and werewolf porn. Around 4:00 he went out into the yard and stared over the fence at Derek's garden, wondering what the fuck he was supposed to do with it all, and everything since then is a caffeinated haze.
The woman on his doorstep looks familiar. He's never met her before, but he recognizes the sharp downward curve of her frown.
"I'm Derek's sister, Laura," she says. "Let me in, we need to talk."
Stiles folds his arms, slumping against the doorframe. "Is this like it is with vampires? Do I have to invite you in? If so, you are not invited, okay, I'm not stupid."
Laura makes an impatient noise and pushes past him, walking into the house.
Stiles seriously considers walking out and leaving her in there by herself, but she'd probably just follow him, she seems pretty determined.
"Talk," he says, leaving the door open. "If you're here with intent to harm, you should know that my dad is the sheriff and I have him on speed-dial." He holds up his phone.
"I'm not going to harm you," Laura says, rolling her eyes. That's familiar, too. "I need to know who you've told."
"No one," he says slowly, lifting a hand to demonstrate the lack of freaked out people in his house. "I haven't told anyone, I promised Derek I wouldn't."
"Can you keep that promise?" She's at least as intense as her brother is, if not quite as scary. Granted, he's never seen her brother in the light of day, and all those nighttime encounters add a certain something. "Do you honestly think you can go on not telling anyone? If you can't, we're better off leaving now."
"Leaving?" Stiles shakes his head, taking a step closer. "You can't leave."
Laura raises her eyebrows. "Why not?"
Because they have a date for tomorrow night. Because they were getting somewhere, before all of the werewolf stuff. Because — because they can't.
"All of the flowers are blooming," Stiles says, grasping at straws. "If you leave now, he'll miss the full moon, and he's out there every freaking night, it would be a waste of all that work if you—" He wets his lips, tries again. "You can't leave."
Laura studies him in silence, smiling slowly. He takes it back; she creeps him out way more than Derek does.
"Oh," she says, relaxing. What does that mean, oh? "You're right. No point in letting it go to waste."
She has to know his argument was pretty thin. Whatever she's up to, Stiles wishes she wouldn't.
"Get some sleep," Laura says, backing up toward the open door. "It was nice to meet you."
"Same," Stiles says, scratching at the coffee splotch on his arm. "Please tell your brother not to freak out on me again, I swear I'm not going to tell anyone."
"I know you won't," she says. That is so creepy.
He faceplants on the couch and passes out until mid-afternoon, dreaming of quiet, sullen werewolves and night-blooming flowers.
Derek doesn't come home that night. His car still isn't in the driveway the next morning, and Stiles spends his work day twitching restlessly and wondering if Derek and Laura have skipped town after all.
He isn't going to tell anybody. He's dying to tell Scott, but he promised he wouldn't, so he won't. He hopes Laura believed him.
When he gets home, Derek's car is back.
A swooping sensation passes through him, a sharp, eager kind of relief. They haven't left yet. There's still time for Stiles to talk him into staying.
He hears a low clang from Derek's backyard. Without stopping to think about it, he crosses Derek's front lawn, following his driveway back to the gate.
Stiles hesitates, not sure how Derek will react to Stiles going into his yard uninvited.
"I know you're there," Derek says, startling him. "You can come in."
Stiles lets himself into the yard. He's never seen it from this perspective, and it's even nicer on this side of the fence, everything carefully laid out in banks of plants and narrow tile walkways.
Derek is shirtless in the sun, driving a wrought iron stand into the ground. There's a hanging basket at his feet with small red flowers, something simple Stiles doesn't have a name for. He stares intently at the basket, cycling through every flower he knows: gardenias, no, begonias, no, geraniums, no. He can't look up, because Derek is shirtless in the sun, and Stiles wants to look, and look, and touch.
"I didn't tell anyone," Stiles says. A day and a half to think it over, and that's all he has. "Don't leave."
Derek sets his hammer down, swiping a forearm over his face. Stiles is not looking.
"We aren't leaving," Derek says. He moves closer, ducking his head in an obvious attempt to meet Stiles' gaze. Stiles lets himself look up, gaze flicking from Derek's chest to his arms to his chest again before he finally makes it up to Derek's eyes.
"I've read a lot of confusing stuff on the internet," Stiles says. Derek closes his eyes briefly, mouth pursing in a way that says, of course you did. "I didn't find anything in there about werewolves being nocturnal, so I figure that's just you."
"I work evenings," Derek says, shaking his head.
"I thought you just liked brooding in the dark," Stiles says.
"I'm sorry," Derek says, disrupting the flow of snark Stiles had going on. The words are forced, uncomfortable, like he's saying them on pain of death. His sister made him apologize, didn't she. "About the—" He gestures at the fence.
"Don't freak out on me again, and we'll be fine," Stiles says. Derek doesn't look convinced. "What, you don't think you can restrain yourself from freaking out?"
"You drive me crazy," Derek says, looking away.
"In context, I don't know if that's a good thing or a dangerous one," Stiles says. He sounds cool, casual, not at all like he's hoping that means what he thinks it does. "What about you? You're driving me crazy. What are you doing out in the sun? Why aren't you wearing a shirt?"
"Why do you want us to stay?" Derek asks the ground, jaw tightening.
"Why does it matter?" Derek looks up, scowling. Aww. Stiles is starting to find the scowl cute. "Sorry, I thought we were answering questions with questions."
I don't know why I like you, Derek's expression says.
Search me, Stiles says with his hands.
Derek tips his head back and blows out a breath, fingers curling and uncurling at his sides.
"Come here," he says, turning toward the corner of his yard. He leads Stiles toward — crap, toward the night-blooming cereus, carefully tucked away where Stiles can't possibly damage it from his side of the fence.
Derek brushes back a few of the leaves. There on one side is a tiny pink bud, a miniature duplicate of the one Stiles broke a few weeks ago.
"I thought you said it only bloomed twice every ten years," Stiles says, reaching out toward it on instinct. Derek grabs his hand, pulling it down to his side and keeping it there, Derek's hand wrapped firmly around his wrist.
"Don't touch," Derek says. "If you break this one off—"
"You'll kill me, yeah, I got it," Stiles says, grinning.
He studies Derek for a moment, taking in all the tiny details nighttime hides. Derek studies him in turn, a smile tugging at his mouth, fingers tight around Stiles' wrist.
"Come back at sunset," Derek says.
"So we're still on for our date?" Stiles' arm twitches nervously in Derek's grasp. "It is a date, right?"
"It's a date," Derek agrees, relaxing his grip and sliding his hand down so that they're palm-to-palm, fingers entwining. Stiles grins at the night-blooming cereus, no longer the slightest bit guilty about killing its twice-a-decade flower.
"And you're sure it's safe, right, because I read a lot of things about full moons on the internet, and—"
"You're safe with me," Derek says.
That's sweet, but Stiles can't let it sit. "With you specifically, but not werewolves in general?"
"Are you planning on hanging out with other werewolves during the full moon?" Derek raises his eyebrows, fingers tightening over Stiles'.
"I don't know, maybe," Stiles says, gesturing with his free hand. "Anyone could be a werewolf, for all I know. Betty and Joyce could be werewolves. Wait, are Betty and Joyce werewolves?"
"I don't know what they are," Derek says, frowning. "Not werewolves."
What? No, Derek was joking. That was a joke, right?
"Hah hah," Stiles says weakly.
"You know, don't you," he says when Joyce answers the door, skipping over hello, how are you, might be time for me to mow the lawn again.
"I have no idea what you're talking about," Joyce says, folding her arms.
"You know," Stiles insists. "'Surly, hairy types,' you said. I thought that was a warning about beard burn."
"Oh, Stiles!" Betty beams at him, clapping her hands together. "I was going to bring some things over, let me go get them!"
Stiles stabs a finger at Betty's retreating back. "Does she know?"
"Do I know what, dear?" Betty calls out from the kitchen.
"About the werewolf in 329," Joyce calls back, not taking her eyes off Stiles.
"Oh, yes, obviously," Betty says, returning with two stacked casseroles and a pie. "One of those is red meat. You know how full moons are."
"He just found out, he has no idea how full moons are," Joyce says dismissively.
"Why do you?" Stiles lets Betty load the casseroles into his arms, unsuccessfully trying not to gape like a fish. "Derek said you aren't werewolves."
Joyce snorts. The idea of being a werewolf must be funny.
"Stop it," Betty says, swatting Joyce on the arm. "You go on, Stiles. He's a nice young man, you'll be fine."
"He's a jerk," Stiles says. "But he loves your cooking, so, um, thanks."
Betty gives him an impromptu hug, casseroles and all.
He still doesn't know what the hell they are, but he supposes that revelation can wait for another day. He's met his dramatic reveals quota for the week, at least.
"I come bearing casseroles and pie," Stiles announces, hip-checking the gate open. "And by the way, dude, your secret is out, they know you're — Superman." He probably shouldn't yell werewolf across the neighborhood. "And they seem to know a lot about ... Kryptonians."
"I know," Derek says, shrugging. Oh. "What did they say to you?"
"This one is red meat," Stiles says, tapping the lowest dish in the stack. "You know how full moons are." Derek nods, taking the stack of dishes from him.
There are two chairs and a small glass-topped table on the grass. Derek has already poured them each a glass of wine. Stiles wasn't aware that come over, I don't care if you bring food or not was code for romantic moonlit dinner, but he isn't going to complain.
The sun has almost set, and the night is warm and clear. There's a fragrance on the air Stiles has noticed now and then, when the wind carries it to his porch at night; here in the garden, it's almost overpowering.
"What the hell is that," he says, taking the glass of wine Derek hands him.
"Merlot," Derek says.
"Night-blooming jasmine." Derek gestures at an enormous potted plant on the deck.
"It's ... nice?" It smells like a women's fragrance counter was emptied into the grass, but it's nice. "Are you going to give me a tour of your emo garden?"
"Only if you stop calling it that," Derek says, sighing.
"That was the last time, I swear," Stiles says, swaying closer to nudge Derek. "C'mon, tell me all about it."
"Do you promise to keep your hands to yourself?"
"I promise not to touch your plants," Stiles says, sliding an arm around Derek's waist. Derek's gaze drops to Stiles' mouth, which is the kind of signal Stiles doesn't need twice. "I'm going to kiss you now, just so you—"
Derek cuts him off, lips pressing to Stiles' in a soft, hesitant kiss. Stiles moves in closer, reaching up to grasp Derek's shoulder—
—and spills red wine all down the back of Derek's shirt.
"Shit," Stiles says, fumbling with the glass, just barely managing to get it down on the table without dropping it. "Sorry, you should—"
"It'll wash," Derek says, which is a blatant lie. "It'll wash, Stiles, just—" He pulls Stiles in, kissing him again, cupping the back of his neck with one hand.
Just before things can get good, Derek jerks back, ears turning red.
"What is it, what," Stiles says breathlessly, following Derek's embarrassed glare across the yard.
"They think they're funny," Derek grumbles.
"Oh my god." Stiles presses a hand to his eyes, yelling: "Go away, Betty! Not the time!"
"She says she's sorry," Derek reports, scowling at 325.
"Just tell me when they're gone."
"They're gone," Derek says after a moment, head tilted to the side as he listens.
"Good," Stiles says, and reels him back in, arms twining around his neck.
* * *
"I think they're human," Stiles says, peering through the ever-so-slightly cracked blinds.
"Not human," Derek says. He and Stiles' dad are on the couch watching baseball. Stiles can't imagine a sport more boring on television than baseball — curling has more drama than baseball, cricket is exciting by comparison — so he's stalking the new neighbors instead, watching them move into his old house.
"Not human, Derek says," Stiles tells Betty, phone squished between his shoulder and his ear.
"Does he?" Betty hums thoughtfully. "What do they smell like?"
Derek frowns, scrunching his eyebrows together.
"Green," he decides, and goes back to the baseball game.
"Green," Stiles repeats.
"Wood nymphs," Joyce says. Is Stiles on speakerphone? "I told you they were."
"Wood nymphs," Stiles dutifully repeats.
His dad makes a what has my life become face. Stiles makes the same face back, with an added hand-flail of, I know, right?
"Wood nymphs are a thing?" His dad says skeptically.
"Wood nymphs are people, god, Dad," Stiles says. Derek snorts, shaking his head.
"You're right, Joycie, look. They brought their trees," Betty says.
Stiles peers through the blinds. The sisters moving into 327 are carrying trees out of their U-Haul. The trees are young-ish, the trunks no wider around than a DVD, but they're still trees, at least twice as tall as the women hauling them around like they weigh nothing.
Derek joins him at the window. Stiles knew he would, Derek loves to lurk at people.
"Are they like you, with the," Stiles gestures at his ear. "Can they hear us?"
"Trees suck," Derek says. Neither of the nymphs bat an eye. "No."
"Mature," Stiles says.
"I'd prefer not to have to arrest either of you for stalking," Stiles' dad says, but he comes over to the window too, glancing out. "What does Betty say? Are they harmless?"
"Oh, yes," Betty says, before Stiles can repeat the question. "They make lovely neighbors. There were wood nymphs across the street in the twenties, they were delightful. The neighborhood trees never looked so good."
Stiles exchanges a wtfed look with Derek.
"Betty," Stiles says, "how long have you and Joyce lived here, exactly?"
"Long enough," Joyce says.
There's a knock at the door. Stiles looks through the blinds. The wood nymphs aren't anywhere in sight, which he suspects means they're on his doorstep. Crap.
"You answer it," he tells Derek, thinking better of it almost before the words are out of his mouth. The last thing he needs is some sort of werewolf-wood nymph showdown, and Derek isn't known for his welcoming attitude. "Wait, no, you stay here, I'll answer it."
The wood nymphs wave in tandem when he answers the door. They look painfully shy, are dressed like hemp-accessorizing hippies, and smell green, even to Stiles' human nose.
"Hey there," Stiles says, waving back. "Welcome to the neighborhood."
"What are you doing?" Joyce asks, leaning in to look over Betty's shoulder.
"I'm going to take some rhubarb pie to the dryads next door," Betty says, tucking tinfoil around the edges of a pie tin. There's another pie next to it on the counter, already covered.
"I don't think they'll need two pies," Joyce says.
"One is for them." Betty hands one of the pies to Joyce. "The other is for the girls to take over to the water sprites in 324."
"You're a menace," Joyce says fondly, kissing her cheek.