Derek’s not really thinking clearly as he drives across town to his brother’s house in the middle of the afternoon on an insignificant Thursday. He keeps having to remind himself to focus on the road, and it makes him glad Casey isn’t with him right now because she’d probably be yelling at him for the amount of red lights he’s had to practically emergency stop at. He’s aware that his leg won’t stop shaking and really he just has to hope that will pass by the time his passenger gets in the car.
Not long later he’s knocking on Edwin’s front door, hopping slightly from one foot to the other. Edwin working freelance from home has turned into one of the most useful parts of his life over the most recent months, and Derek’s trying not to take it for granted. To be fair, Ed offers to help, and it saves always leaving things up to Dad and Nora.
He’s taking a while to answer the door though, and Derek’s a little on edge. He’s struggling to stand still as he waits, and he can’t even hide his nervous energy when the door opens.
“Dude,” Ed grins at him in amusement as he stands aside for Derek to follow him in, “Calm down, everything’s been fine.”
Derek gives him a look, because he knows that. He trusts Ed. That’s not why he’s nervous.
“Of course it has, you’ve babysat before,” Derek starts, before a yell comes at him from across the room, accompanied by a blur.
“Hey, Princess, how’s your day been?” Derek asks his three year old daughter as he picks her up, “Did Uncle Ed behave himself?”
She gives this question some careful consideration, before solemnly answering, “I think so, but I wasn’t watching him all the time.”
“Thanks, Soph.” Ed scoffs, “Love you too.” He ruffles her hair for good measure, grinning at her before turning back to Derek.
“Anyway, how’s…” Ed pauses, glancing at Sophie before turning to Derek again, “Things?”
Derek beams, “Things are good, yeah.”
“Nobody tagged you this time?”
“No, thankfully I had a plan to keep you busy.”
Ed just grins in response, he’s still very proud of that particular tag. He does have another question for his older brother, though, “... pink or blue?”
Derek raises an eyebrow, “Green.”
“Oh, fuck you!”
Derek covers one of his daughter’s ears with his free hand, “C’mon, man! She’s picking everything up at the moment, you know that.”
“Fine, fine,” Ed concedes, “Sorry. That was uncalled for. You’ll message later though, right?”
“We’ll send photos, I promise.”
“Good because Marti came round for lunch and she’s dying at having no info.”
“I know, I know,” Derek laughs, looking around to see if there’s anything obvious he needs to grab to take with them right now, “She’s messaged me like 40 times, I nearly blocked her number but Case told me not to. We just-”
“Can we go home now?” Sophie piques up, bored of being essentially ignored.
“We gotta make a stop first, Soph,” Derek says as he readjusts her to allow him to pick up her bag from the side table by the door. Edwin was prepared and he appreciates it, “But yeah, we’re leaving. Say bye to Uncle Ed.”
“Bye Uncle Ed!” She waves as Derek moves towards the door.
“Sophie comes first, y’know?” Derek parts with, and Ed just nods in response as he watches Derek strap his daughter into her car seat. He gets it, the entire family does. They’re just excited.
The car journey back to his original starting point feels both longer and shorter than the one out to Ed’s. It’s shorter because he’s not alone, and can’t wallow in his own thoughts. It’s longer because… well because the reason he’s not alone is three years old and is giving him a very detailed, minute by minute lowdown of her entire day. God, he loves her.
“... and then Smantie came to say hi, and then we all played tag, and then I wanted to show her how to draw a pony so…”
He turns in his seat to look at her once they’re parked up, and Sophie immediately stops talking. She’s three, she’s not stupid. Something’s going on and she can tell, and it feels like she’s about to get some answers.
“Mommy?” She asks. Derek smiles.
“She’s inside this building, I promise. We’re gonna go see her now, but you’ve gotta be real quiet OK? And let daddy carry you?”
Sophie just nods in response, “OK. Mommy now.”
He laughs, because of course. Sophie’s a mommy’s girl, no matter what Casey seems to think. He wonders if…
Sophie kicks the back of his chair, “Mommy,” she insists. Derek starts moving.
Good to her word, Sophie doesn’t make a peek as they walk through the corridors. She’s watching everything intently as they walk by - noting people coming in and out of doors, head turning at the odd abrupt beeping sound. Everything around them gets quieter as they get closer to their destination though, and suddenly Derek’s pausing outside a door.
“Mommy?” Sophie whispers, and Derek nods in affirmation.
“Mommy’s in here, yeah. Stay quiet though, she might be sleeping.”
Derek opens the door slowly, and enters in a way that blocks Casey from Sophie’s view for as long as possible so he can assess the situation. Luckily though, she’s awake, waiting for them. She looks exhausted, but also happy. Glowing.
“There’s my big girl,” Casey says, softly, “Come say hello.”
They never explained the whole process to her (she’s only three after all) but Sophie knew enough. She knew to be careful around mommy, and especially around her tummy. She knew there was a baby in there, and now she’s looking at the bundle in Casey’s arms with a revered awe that suggests she knows exactly where that baby is now.
Derek brings Sophie closer to Casey’s hospital bed, and gently lowers her down next to her mother, giving Casey a kiss on the head as he does so.
“This is Elyse, she’s your baby sister,” he says, tucking some hair behind Sophie’s ear, “You’ve got to make sure to look out for her, OK?”
Sophie nods, not taking her eyes away from the baby as Elyse snuffles and moves around in her sleep. Derek thinks his heart might actually explode at the image before him.
“That’s right,” says Casey, “Baby. Elyse.”
“Hi Elyse!” Sophie repeats, with slightly more force than before. She grins up at Casey, “She’s coming home with us?”
Derek and Casey both grin at her.
“If that’s OK with you?” Casey replies, and Derek nearly balks at her as if she’s actually giving their three year old the option to leave their newborn behind. Which of course, she isn’t, but he’s tired and for a split second that’s where his mind goes.
He’s watching closely as Sophie leans forward to stroke Elyse’s head. She’s being gentle, like she is with Lizzie’s kitten, which is good yes but he does feel a conversation in his future about her baby sister not being a pet. He’s not going to have it with her right now, though.
“Hey, Elyse,” he hears her say into the quiet, her hand placed fully on the baby’s cheek, “You’re it!”