Stiles and Derek had been walking the visitor’s path to work for a week. Conversational topics varied from ‘what’s the best Godfather movie?’ (an unreasonably heated debate rose from this) to ‘is it ever acceptable to provide your pets with cute sweater?’ (Stiles couldn’t stop laughing at the face Derek pulled when this was mentioned) to ‘is time travel feasible?’ (both held onto the lame hope it was)
However, some topic descended into neither arguments nor debates, but the weird kind of chatter overheard during long car journeys. Derek had vetoed I Spy several times, and Stiles, surprisingly, hadn’t sulked about it. He’d just come up with even more irritating games to play as they loitered outside the coffee kiosk and then strolled up the frosty concrete path to the wolves.
“Top Ten Movies?”
“Why do you want to know that?”
“Because! I’m freezing my ass off and the least you could do is cheer me up and give me your Top three.”
Stiles clasped his hands beseechingly, clearly on the cusp of a full length whinging session. Derek decided complying was the lesser of two evils.
“Fine. The Green Mile … uh … Castaway … and The Terminal.”
“Never seen any of them.”
“You should, they’re classics.”
“I’ll look them up.”
Derek nodded in satisfaction and handed over Stiles’ Latte, brushing away the notes waved in his face. Stiles huffed, but nevertheless pocketed his money.
“Your go to ask me something.”
“I don’t know.”
“It’s not rocket science, just finished this sentence: ‘Top three – ‘?”
Stiles elongated the word into a shrill whine, lip jutted out in a pout which Derek purposefully ignored. Yet after a minute or so of Stiles’ constant whinging, Derek begrudgingly relented.
“Top three books?” he grunted. Stiles jigged on the spot gleefully.
“Oh man that’s hard, okay. Anything written by Terry Pratchett, that counts as one, right?”
Derek grazed a hand on the mesh of the Baboon section and shrugged, “it’s your game.”
“Ha! Oh yeah – right, The Kite Runner and, uh, Watership Down.”
“My mom read that to me once.”
Stiles looked away from his morning greeting of the apes, mouth piqued in a smile, “yeah?”
Sometimes the discussions took a less personal turn and were pleasantly superficial and meaningless.
“Top three celebrity crushes?”
“Are you interviewing me for a tween magazine?”
“Hilarious. I’d tell you to do stand up, but you’d probably kill anyone who heckles you and I am so not getting tangled up in a murder charge.”
“I don’t know, Stiles.”
“Wanna hear mine instead?”
“If you must.”
“Scarlett Johnhasen, Lucy Liu and … Mmm, Benedict Cumberflumberthingy.”
“Cumb - ? Right. Right.”
By the tenth day, the Godfather debate had returned.
“I’m just saying, Godfather III is nobody’s favourite.”
Stiles punched Derek’s arm, ignoring the death stare he received in reply, “well you asked me which Godfather film I liked best and I told you. I don’t get what’s not to get.”
Derek gesticulated, as if to grab the explanation from thin air, “it’s a thing.”
“Your way with words is astounding. Truly.”
“Godfather III is just bad.”
Stiles offered him a sideways grin, “You know what? I am so baffled how we can’t agree on something because that’s never happened before. Ever. We should write this down and stick in a history book or maybe just write a poem about it. Because this is a once in a lifetime occurrence.”
The sarcasm dripped grin did something to Derek. The odd twist of lips, the way only one part of Stiles’ mouth seemed to quirk upwards, the almost secretive nature of it was so – Stiles.
That was pretty much when he realised he was in over his head.
Derek hadn’t entered a life of celibacy after Kate.
Actually, the complete opposite happened. After he graduated from High School and the feeling of loneliness had etched itself into his bones, he’d kind of – lost it.
There had been way too many one night stands, hazes fuelled by the drinks he’d shamelessly flirted men twice his age into buying, nameless woman leaving his apartment early in the morning, and definitely too many awkward clinic appointments.
Derek never really deigned to think about that time and once he got stuck into College work and began to balance the pack at the zoo with his course, things went a little smoother. He was happier, but still – though he’d never admit it – achingly lonely.
“I said, palms flat.”
Stiles stretched out his hand, allowing Carl to snuffle into it warily. The wolf let out a low growl and tore off into the enclosure, leaving Stiles in an uncomfortable squat on the damp floor.
“He’s getting used to you,” Derek said in a mildly consoling tone as Stiles hung his head in defeat.
“He’s been gettingused to me for four months.”
“They’re animals. Animals are temperamental.”
“S’pose,” Stiles agreed, still looking monumentally pissed. Derek hesitated and then gently squeezed Stiles’ shoulder, letting his hand linger for a while, bleeding warmth from Stiles. The silence that followed was only broken by the crunch of frost strangled leaves being crushed underfoot by heavy paws.
“Hey,” Derek gently shook Stiles, “look.”
Stiles dragged his head upwards, eyes widening at the sight of the wolves slowly creeping towards them, “hey guys.” He said in a dull voice.
Fenton sniffed the air, ears twitching minutely. He let out a soft growl and howled long and low to the sky. Derek thought back to Thanksgiving.
“Try howling back.”
Stiles yelped out a laugh, “my howls suck.”
“Just do it.”
Squirming slightly, Stiles tipped his head back a let out a slightly reedy, but convincing, howl.
The first reply wasn’t from the pack in front of them but from far off behind, beyond the yall spindly trees. Stiles whipped around and frowned, brow creased.
“Is that - ?”
Stiles flushed pink with a pleased grin on his face. He ducked back down, apparently intrigued by the mush of mud and dirt on the ground, “knew he liked me really.” He muttered gruffly.
Derek noted the oddly thick tone and Stiles hastily scrubbing his face with another tentative pat to the shoulder. The wolves just had a way of getting to people.
The staff room was full of noise when Derek went for lunch. Settling in the armchair, he watched Scott and Stiles cheerfully decorate a tree whilst, under Lydia’s instructions, Danny fastened decorations to the walls and Boyd held the ladder. Jackson and Erica were curled up on the couch, watching the proceedings with a look of great disinterest.
“Deck the hall with boughs of holly!”
Scott chucked a length of tinsel over the scrubby tree, “fa la la la la la la la la!”
“’tis the season to be jolly,” Stiles coiled the tinsel around and grinned beatifically, “ – that means you too, Derek.”
“Fa la la la la la la la la!”
“Sooomething about gay apparel!”
“Fa la la la la la la la la!”
“Da-di-da-da, la la carol!”
Scott frowned, “I don’t think that’s it.”
Stiles paused and shrugged, “my version is better - what do you think, Danny?”
Danny teetered and wobbled down from the ladder, “I prefer the original lyrics but I guess I’m just one for tradition.”
“I meant the tree.”
“Oh!” Danny gave a bauble an approving flick. “Good. Better than last year.”
“What was wrong with last year?”
“I told Erica and Derek to do it.”
Stiles let out an amused snort. Erica snapped a candy cane and sucked on it, waggling her eyebrows at anyone who let their gaze wander over to her lips.
“I think we did a pretty good job,” she said thoughtfully. “We decorated the damn tree, didn’t we?”
“No you didn’t!”
Erica swivelled the candy cane in her mouth, “but we thought about it. And I distinctly remember cramming candy wrappers on it at some point, which totally counts as decoration.”
Stiles waved his hands dismissively as Danny muttered a stung ‘does not’.
“What happened last year was obviously a very tragic Christmas -”
Erica snapped another candy cane threateningly.
“ - but this year will be a festive triumph!” he finished proudly, flicking on the lights.
“Dude,” Scott waved a jar decorated with garishly leering snowmen, “I thought we were gonna do Secret Santa before our big finale?”
Derek bit back a comment about a few crappy flicking lights barely counting as a big finale.
“Oh yeah!” Stiles pointed to the jar, “every regular member of this staff room has to pick a name.”
“Regular member?” Boyd settled on the couch and wrapped his arms around Erica, frowning, “did I accidentally join a cult or something?”
Scott passed the jar around the room. Danny rifled in it and unfurled a slip of paper, “haven’t you noticed that we do actually have a group of regulars?” he asked, shoving it into his pocket, “this group is like a weird sitcom or something. We’ve got our mismatched double act,” He shot a pointed look towards Derek and Stiles, “we’ve got the brains – Lydia, and the beauty – Jackson. Boyd’s our level headed mediator, Erica’s the girl with all the sassy catchphrases and Scott and Allison are like the ‘straight guys’ the sitcom is based around. You know, they’re trying to pursue a cute little zoo romance, and everyone’s getting in the way with their wacky shenanigans.”
Erica pulled a name from the jar, shaking her head, “it amazes me how much spare time you have.”
Stiles counted the remaining names and shook the jar at Derek, “but it’s completely true! This staff room is like, Central Perk or Monica’s apartment in Friends and,” he waved his arms erratically, “– oh my god, we could call it Jeepers Keepers and somebody get Fox on the phone right now.”
Throughout Stiles and Danny’s screenwriting epiphany, Derek had been slowly edging towards the door. Stiles spotted him as he was about to leave and bounded across the room, seizing the jar from Lydia. He jiggled it expectantly until Derek reached inside and withdrew a scrap of paper.
Isaac it said in Stiles’ familiar scrawl and for some reason, Derek felt disappointed.
Danny had been dropping by Derek's office with increasing regularity. Derek wasn't too sure why, yet when he'd mentioned it to Stiles, Stiles had snorted and said 'you have no clue, do you?'
Derek didn't and he resented Stiles holding the fact over his head.
So when Danny, impatiently circling Derek's office for a vaguely explained reason that Derek couldn't even remember, plucked up a pair of boxers between his thumb and forefinger and Stiles had a minor choking fit on the cookies he was gnawing on, Derek decided to ignore it. It was probably best to remain on 'no clue' terms.
“Uh, why is there a pile of underwear here?”
Isaac’s face slowly dropped, his mouth forming a horrified ‘oh’. He snatched the pile and dashed upstairs. Danny frowned, gaze following Isaac before turning to Derek with a sympathic grin. He was beginning to look like he understood why Derek so often despaired of his trainees.
“What just happened?”
Stiles seated himself on Derek’s desk, ignoring the scowl it earned him, “Isaac forgot to put away his laundry.”
Danny looked from Derek to Stiles in attempt to prompt an explanation, “that kind of introduces more questions than it answers.”
“You know the youth of today. So messy. No respect for their elders,” Stiles twiddled his thumbs innocently.
“1) Isaac is older than you and 2) I don’t know many ‘Youth of today’ who bring their underwear into work.”
“It’s a new craze. I’ll never keep up with kids these days.”
“Uh-huh,” Danny eyes Isaac as he pads back downstairs. Isaac blushed and purposefully focussed on the notice board, apparently intrigued by his cleaning duties and Stiles’ new coloured coordinated rota system.
Derek is a fan of silence. He just wished most of the silences in his life weren’t ridiculously awkward. After all, it wouldn’t hurt to tell Danny about Isaac’s little home. It was Derek’s office and Stiles had cleared it with the necessary people, there was no reason for there to be any issue about it and definitely no reason for Stiles choking and Isaac's red cheeks.
“Isaac is staying here for a while,” Derek said, folding his arms. “Until he arranges a permanent place.”
Stiles buried his face in his hands and groaned. Danny’s face creased, dimples appearing, shaking with barely contained laughs, “oh my god,” he spluttered, “Seriously?"
Isaac stuttered out a defence, faltered and nodded.
"So you just – never leave?”
“I leave, just not when everyone else does.”
“So when do you leave?”
Relaxing slightly, Isaac grinned and sheepishly settled on the couch, “dunno. But I do leave”
“Comforting. What about the night keepers and guards? Don’t they have anything to say about it?”
Isaac avoided Derek’s eye, “they never really come up here anyway, since they have their own quarters.”
Derek frowned. Why would it matter? They knew. Stiles had told them.
“Uh-huh. So, Derek, you’ve been harbouring Isaac here for - ?”
“Three weeks,” Stiles supplied with a nod.
“ – three weeks, like some fugitive - ”
“ – Zoo – gitive - ” Isaac said with a pleased grin. Derek wondered how long he’d been sitting on that particular pun.
“Zoogitive,” Danny agreed wearily, “and you didn’t think to tell anyone?”
“Stiles cleared it with the night … ” Derek tailed off with a slowly creeping horror upon him, pieces slotting into place and becoming part of a giant ‘let’s pull some shit behind Derek’s back and maybe get him fired because there’s no telling of how illegal and against the rules this is’ jigsaw. Stiles slunk over to the couch and meekly seated himself next to Isaac. As soon as Derek’s jaw clenched, they both burst into eerily identical and innocent smiles.
Derek decided that he should cut his loses, take the wolves and move far, far away from the mess his life had turned into.
Cambodia was meant to be very nice this time of year.
The moon smudged nearby clouds with its glow. Derek settled in front of the two headstones and set about tidying them, tugging up stray weeds and errant petals that had swept over from recent funerals. Brushing a hand over the date, Derek placed the two bouquets down with a small smile.
Derek wasn’t much in the habit of talking to his parent’s graves, but he made the occasional exception.
“I’ve got some things to tell you.”
The flowers rustled in the breeze.
It always felt weird talking to slabs of stone.
“Well, my trainees, really.”
The C in his mother’s middle name looked a bit like a G. It bothered him.
“They’re a little weird.”
He sometimes thought about being buried next to them.
“In a good way.”
Strange as it seemed, Derek had always like the idea of cremation.
“They’re good at their job too. Isaac’s staying on to be my second, he’ll study and work at the same time.”
There was a odd peace behind the thought.
“Stiles is leaving for college. He’s not staying on.”
And that’s what death should be. Peaceful. Derek pulled himself from the morbid thoughts to recall more about his staff.
“Isaac’s nice. You’d like him, dad.”
Isaac was nice.
“But Stiles, the other one.”
Stiles was appropriately apologetic for the Isaac incident and had promised to arrange an alternative abode. Derek was still pissed, but there was an annoyingly endearing charm to the 'Sorry' card Stiles had stapled to the notice board.
“Let’s just say I feel bad for having a favourite.”