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That Creeper, the Zoo Keeper

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“Yo! Barkeep!”

Derek pretended to be extremely interested in the fire safety signs that were hung up next to the bar. The evening had thus far been pretty pleasant aside from the fact the Stiles was trying a little too hard to embarrass Derek, or maybe he was just really unsuccessfully trying to fit in. Either way, it was in equal parts annoying and endearing, which was actually Stiles down to a T.

“Care to hook me and my buddy up with a couple of Jack and Cokes? Thanks daddio.”

With a snort, Derek turned to Stiles, “why are you talking like that?”

“Just trying to mix with the crowd.”

“Do you hear anyone else in the crowd saying ‘Daddio’?”

“Maybe.”

“No one,” Derek said firmly. “Mainly because we’re not in a 1930’s speakeasy, but also - ”

“Um,” the barkeeper cut in awkwardly, “I’m going to need some ID.”

Derek flashed his driver’s license but Stiles patted himself down, making an elaborate show of discovering his pocket and wallets empty.

“Oh no! Oh I’m such a scatterbrained man of legal age. Oh, how ever did I make it to twenty one when I’m so forgetful. Oh Gee. Must be my age. Being born in 1991 - ”

Derek covered his face and groaned, whilst the barkeeper started laughing. She served up a Jack and Coke and a regular Coke, winking at Derek.

“On the house, ‘cause I needed that laugh tonight.”

Stiles grinned triumphantly, attempting to steal a sip of Derek’s Jack. When Derek snatched it back, slopping most of it over his wrist, Stiles pouted.

“Meanie.”

“No alcohol,” he said firmly.

“But you’re drinking!”

“I’m 25.”

Stiles paused, looking momentarily taken aback, “25? Seriously? I thought you were older than that, man.”

“How much older?” Derek asked, seating himself in a booth. Stiles inelegantly flopped next to him, spilling yet more drink across the table in a tsunami of brown fizz.

“Like in your late thirties,” Stiles said with a shrug.

“You thought I was in my thirties?!”

Which … Derek’s not one to worry about his looks, but thirty? And late thirties at that. How is it that he’s managed to amass an apparent fifteen plus years on his appearance? His dad always said Hale men age well, but maybe he just meant ‘fast’.

Derek turns back to Stiles, with the intent of probing further, onto to find Stiles mid-giggles.

“Aw man, you were hurtling into some midlife crisis there, weren’t ya, buddy boy?”

He was kidding. The little shit.

“You’re a little shit,” Derek told Stiles, with a trace of fondness. Stiles beamed.

“But you are going grey. I noticed a few silvers in your temple the other day.”

“Wonder why,” Derek said dryly. Stiles laughed again. 


“Man, I love this jazz” Stiles said snapping his fingers alongside the band’s music. “Like. Wow. Jazzy Jazz. Skibby bibby dippy-do-wop-wop.”

“That’s not jazz.”

“Oh yeah, that was scat, wasn’t it?”

“Nope. At a stretch, it was a very poor Bill Cosby impression.”

“Oh meow, Derek Hale bringing out the claws.”

Derek grinned into his drink.


 

“First band were better,” Derek muttered, taking a swig of his drink. The second performer had just finished their set and even Stiles, who seemed only mildly fond of Jazz music, knew that it had been a piss poor performance.

“I’ll drink to that,” Stiles tapped impatiently on the table. “speaking of … ”

“I’m not buying you a drink.”

“Why not?”

“Because you’re nineteen.”

“Twenty,” Stiles corrected.

“What?”

“Twenty,” Stiles repeated. “You know, comes after nineteen.  Two-Oh. Good, solid number.”

“When did  that happen?”

“Like most people, I aged up on my birthday,” Stiles lifted his foot, waggling the Batman converse happily, “but don’t worry man. You’re covered on the gift front for the next couple of years and anyway,” Stiles dropped his foot back down with a heavy thud, “it was when dad was still in hospital, so I just hung out with him. Not really a birthday I was crazy to tell every about.”

“Oh.”

Stiles grinned, “it’s okay. Scott and Melissa were there and Scott made me a freaking cake, which is just – man, he’s such a great guy. Though dad bitched when I wouldn’t let him have a slice,” Stiles paused thoughtfully. “I think he forgot the reason he was in hospital.”  He shook his head fondly, “anyway, if you feel absolutely terrible, then you could buy me a late birthday drink.”

 “Of course I will - ”

Stiles perked up.

“ – on your twenty first.”

Stiles slumped, “dude!”

“What?” Derek took a deep swig of his own drink, just to piss Stiles off. Stiles nudged him under the table. Derek kicked back and they had a minor scuffle as the third band plucked up with the first few thrums of heavy notes.


 

“No.”

“Oh come on dude!”

“If you’re this desperate for alcohol, then I’m a little worried about your drinking habits.”

“I - ” Stiles hesitated and then shrugged, “okay, by this point is just become a matter of principle. There’s no good reason, apart from the flimsy excuse of law, blegh, that you shouldn’t buy me a drink.”

Derek paused uneasily. At first, he really had been trying to stick to the law since this was the sort of thing that could have a pretty bitter backlash. But wouldn’t buy Stiles a drink on this already fairly intimate night out make it … even more intimate? Or was he overthinking this? He had a tendency to do that. Apparently. He didn’t think so.

“It’s unprofessional,” he said after some deliberation.

“Come again?”

“I’m your boss, I shouldn’t be plying you with alcohol.”

Stiles rolled his eyes and made a noise of dissent, “and when have we ever been the shining example of ‘professional’?”

Fair play.


 

When the evening began to wind down, Stiles and Derek were still sat in their booth. Stiles had somehow managed to worm in more than a few cocktails and seemed to buzz with the saccharine alcohol.

“Holy shit, is that my old chemistry teacher?! Shit, crap, hide me!”

Without any further warning, Stiles barrelled under the table and flung his arms over his head. Derek frowned, watching the bespectacled man cross the room and leave.

“He’s gone.” Derek helped Stiles struggle back up. “So what was that all about?”

Stiles scruffed the back of his neck nervously, “we never really saw eye to eye. I’d rather forgo the snide comments, thanks.”

“But you’ve left school.”

“And? Doesn’t mean he can’t be a dick.”

Derek watched Stiles fish in the bottom of his glass for the cherry. He wondered what Stiles was like before his placement, what he was like at school – he must have been bright, but counting in his behaviour around work, there must have been some difficulty manoeuvring around his ADD. Stiles managed it well, Derek knew that, but there must have been times when it wasn’t enough. And what about friends? Scott. Derek was aware of that much. Isaac was only a tiny bit older, so they must’ve gone to school together – mightn’t they have been in the same grade?

Apparently Stiles was having similar thoughts, as he popped the cherry in his mouth, smacking his lip obscenely and asked, “what were you like at school?”

Attempting to draw all his attention away from the borderline pornographic movement of Stiles lips, Derek thought about this; after a while, he settled for,

“Skinny,” and, after some deliberation, “kinda quiet, I guess.”

Stiles waved his hands in what was clearly a request for further detail. Derek shrugged, “that’s it. School was school. Played Baseball. Got average grades.”

“Can’t imagine you as a skinny kid with braces and stuff.”

“I never had braces.”

“But you were skinny?”

Derek shrugged, “yeah. I was a teenager.”

Stiles leant back in his seat, “wow,” he said, “so when did you start – y’know,” Stiles flexed his arms.

“When did I start flexing at random intervals?” Derek asked doubtfully.

“Bulk out!” Stiles said. “Come on, you must know what you look like. The barwoman didn’t give us free drinks ‘cause we ‘made her laugh’ it was because you made her … something else.”

Derek knew people found him attractive and he may or may not have used that to his advantage a couple of times. But it didn’t matter to him know and didn’t matter to him when he was at school – especially when he became ‘that orphan kid’.

“I know people think I’m good looking,” he said, shrugging. Stiles snorted derisively.

“They think a little more than that. When I went to the bathroom, I could hear those woman over there discussing whether we were on a date, or whether they should ‘make their move’,” he winked, “apparently they think you’re ‘too yummy to pass up’.”

“I guess it’s useful for getting dates,” Derek admitted. Stiles nodded wisely.

“I hear you man. once I figured out a failsafe technique for getting dates, everything else just fell in place.”

Curiosity itching, Derek decided to take the bait, “so what’s the technique?”

Stiles held up a hand one moment, and rolled his neck. He cleared his throat and did a weird full body shudder. After humming a small scale, he grinned easily and leant on his elbow. Derek waited. Stiles took a deep breath and cleared his throat again.

“Ifyouwannadatemesaywhat.”

“ … What?”

Stiles threw his head back and cackled with laughter. Derek repeated the garbled rush of words to himself and then groaned.

“Are you in fifth grade or something?”

“Or something.”


 

Eventually, they had to call it a night.

“Well,” Stiles said, shrugging on his coat, “I don’t know about you, but I really had fun tonight.”

“Yeah, I did too.”

Stiles frowned, noticing Derek was still loitering by the entrance of the club, “what’re you waiting for?”

“I’m walking you home.”

“You - ” Stiles laughed. “Oh my god, actual perfect gentleman Derek Hale.” He held out his arm. “Get to it then.”

Cautiously, Derek took Stiles’ arm and they walked to the house. They’d drunk too much to even consider driving, but the soft blanket of stars flung above them proved to be a better sight than any monotonous road. They walked and talked and Derek could honestly say he regretted having to say goodbye at the end of the night. Especially since Stiles momentarily closed in and it seemed – just for a split second – as if they were about to kiss.


 

Derek stumbled in at one, slightly drunk and more than a little confused. Isaac was curled up on the couch, phone to his ear and Wolf purring lethargically in his lap.

“ – oh, now I’m getting to that part – ah, wait, gotta pause, Derek just walked in - Ha! Yeah, I’ll ask.”

Isaac held the phone to his chest, “Danny wants to know how your little man date went.”

Derek scowled. Isaac cackled and brought his phone back to his ear, “I was right,” he told Danny. Derek bristled.

“Right about what? What are you doing?

“Nothing,” Isaac sang, resuming the film. “I’m just watching The Hobbit with Danny.”

Oh Good God. Derek flopped onto the couch, wearily rubbing the faint buzz of drunkenness still lingering in his head.  After half an hour or so, Isaac finally managed to stop cackling with Danny, hang up and turn the stupid movie off.

“So,” he asked, scooping Wolf into a more comfortable position. “How did it go?”

“Fine. But it wasn’t a date.”

“Really? I mean, you can forgive me for asking since him and you … y’know.”

“No,” Derek snapped. “Anyway, he has a boyfriend.” And with that, Derek headed into the kitchenette, grabbing a mug from the shelf and making himself a decaf. He took pride in the fact he managed to make each gesture as vehement as possible.

“Stiles doesn’t have a boyfriend,” Isaac said slowly, “they broke up. I don’t think they even called each other their ‘boyfriend’ anyway.”

Derek froze, “what?”

“They broke up a week or so ago. I’m surprised he didn’t tell you, what with all those cute little texted conversations.” Isaac idly scratched behind Wolf’s ear. “Yeah, Scott was kinda vague – said he was talking about going on a double date, you know him and Allison with Stiles and Perry .”

“Uh-huh,” the get to the point was heavily implied by Derek’s reply. Isaac, however, seemed to relish in Derek’s impressively measured patience.

“Well, Scott said he pitched the idea to Stiles, who was kinda like,” Isaac shrugged, “I don’t know. Apparently he just said he and Perry weren’t together anymore. Scott was kinda surprised, he said Stiles and Perry always seemed to get on really well.”

“Yeah,” Derek casually spooned far too much sugar into his coffee for want of something to do. “I thought that too.”

“I saw Perry at the gym,” Isaac reclined in his seat, clearly enjoying every moment of Derek’s turmoil. “He seemed pretty okay. Not cut up about it. He asked about the zoo and was going on about maybe bringing the kids back for another field trip.” He shrugged. “To be honest, I think their relationship kinda fizzed out after a few weeks.”

“Oh,” Derek took a deep gulp of his coffee, wincing as he scalded his tongue. “Well, I’m going to bed.”

“Sweet dreams,” Isaac called, still grinning in an infuriatingly knowing manner.


 

Hopefully Stiles would demonstrate his talent for word vomit and let forth a blow-by-blow account of why he and Perry broke up. Complete with pointers on how to avoid a similar fate if ever any was to pursue a relationship with him, and maybe a handy guide on when he’d be ready for some such thing.

Derek met Stiles, as usual, by the Zoo entrance and Isaac went to meet Danny, which was also becoming a strangely regularly occurrence and Derek made a mental note to look into that.

“Morning,” Derek greeted, handing over the perfunctory coffee.

“Morning!” Stiles frowned at the cup, “are you ever going to let me pay for these?”

“When you get here on time.”

Stiles sighed mournfully, taking a deep, appreciative sip, “never, then. But next time we do a little evening out, I’m paying, okay man?”

Derek couldn’t stop grinning long enough to protest.


 

However, everything seemed to taper out after that delicious little hint. Weeks passed and Derek still hadn’t mentioned Perry. What if it was too sore a subject? What if they’d got back together? What if Stiles didn’t even feel about Derek in that way?

Eventually, the endless questions and not knowing became too much, so Derek hatched a plan. Well, it was a sort of plan. He saw a poster on the high street, decided to go for it and lay everything out.

Some weeks after their evening together, Derek waited until Stiles’ lunch break and awkwardly tailed after him, half-cornering him outside the staff room.

“I have tickets to a Jazz show tonight.” He began nervously. “You want to go?”

Stiles squeaked – squeaked – and nodded limply.

“Sure … uh, yay! Jazz.”

Well that was a lot less eager than Derek expected. Stiles usually reigned supreme over the kingdom of enthusiasm, President of eagersville, Lord high of Keenness, etc

Yet he seemed to be positively miserable at the prospect of going the festival.

“You okay?”

“Yeah! Sure, I just – um, does it have to be jazz?”

“I believe the people at the Jazztacular Jazz show are pretty keen on just the one genre,” Derek said dryly. “Do you not want to go? You don’t have to.”

“Uh, well. I guess. We had a great time talking at the last one.”

“Talking,” Derek repeated. Something clicked and he felt a horrible well of realisation pool in his gut, “you actually hate Jazz don’t you?”

“A little bit, yeah.”

Derek slowly breathed in, trying not to let the humiliation burn across his face, “why did you come with me the last time if you hate Jazz so much?”

“Why do you think?!” Stiles shrieked, a little hysterically. The sound echoed throughout the courtyard and some passer-by turned to stare. Derek sighed and tugged Stiles away into a staff alley, shuffling into a tiny, but private, space behind a shed. Stiles sighed and seated himself down on the ground, Derek following suit.  

“So,” Derek said into the thick silence.

Stiles groaned, slowly covering his face, “I got you two tickets with the full intention of letting you take whoever you want.” He mumbled through a cage of fingers.

“And?”

“You invited me, so … ”

“You could’ve said no! I do have friends you – oh my god,” Derek narrowed his eyes, “do you think I don’t have friends? You do. You think I’m a lonely jazz obsessed guy with a cat and no friends.”

“No, no, I know you do, it’s just – well, I thought about someone going with you and I – it’s kind of, well, I got a little – jealous.”

“Jealous.” Derek repeated slowly. “Of me?”

“Mhmm,” Stiles determinedly stared off into the distance.

“Because … ”

“Because the thought of someone dating you made me jealous.”

“Stiles - ”

“Or, y’know,” Stiles swallowed lightly, “the thought of someone who wasn’t me dating you, made me jealous.”

Oh. Wow. All earlier humiliation and embarrassment seemed to wash away, and in came crashing a sudden wave of apprehension and a few licks of hopeful optimism.

“Stiles - ”

“Crap,” Stiles wailed, covering his face again. “Okay, please don’t get freaked out, okay? This isn’t some little employee crush and I wasn’t trying to trick you into dating me! I just wanted to get to know you outside of work, which was probably a mistake seeing as it’s made everything a thousand times worse and, oh man, please don’t think I’m a total freak, I just - ”

Derek  slowly pried away Stiles’ fingers and met his gaze, “Stiles,” he said quietly, “what are you saying?”

“Do I have to say it out loud?” Stiles asked miserably. Derek decided to forgo any sense of pride or panic and pressed their lips together briefly, pulling back after only a second or two.

No screeching. No yells of work place harassment and molestation. Stiles breathed out harshly.

“You kissed me,” he said after a horribly long silence.

“Yup.”

“On the lips,” he cocked his head, frowning, “platonically?”

“Not my intention, but - ”

Stiles launched himself forward Derek landed with a heavy thud against the shed, Stiles thighs caging his legs in. Stiles’ hands raked through his hair and tugged his head forward; at first, the kisses were clumsy, but Stiles’ slowed down and Derek’s brain stopped short-circuiting and he managed to meet the enthusiasm, nipping Stiles lower lip and grinning at the responding whimper. After a few delicious minutes, Stiles drew back, his cheeks flushed and lips slick and red.

“We should move,” he said regretfully.

“Probably. There’s gravel digging into my ass.”

Stiles grinned, “yeah, and I’m pretty sure I’m kneeling in a puddle.”

They didn’t move. Instead, Stiles dragged Derek in once again and Derek got to learn that Stiles would elicit beautiful little whimpers whenever his neck was kissed and Stiles out right laughed at the gaps he managed to pull from Derek after he tugged at his hair.

Eventually, eventually, they broke apart.

“Stiles,” Derek said softly. Stiles’ expression faltered and he licked his lips, a nervous swipe of the tongue.

“Yeah?”

“Just - ” Derek hesitated. “What are we doing?”

“In layman’s terms, ‘first base’.”

“Stiles.”

Stiles’ grin faded slightly, “I don’t know.” He admitted quietly. “You’re not some rebound thing, okay? I want to get that out in the open. Me and Perry it was – he was married before, and straight from day one, he said that he didn’t want anything serious and that he was just finding his feet in the whole dating thing.” Stiles tugged Derek in and brushed their foreheads together. “I thought it would be a good distraction, you know? And I needed a good distraction. You blew my mind with the whole Batman converse stunt! When I went over on Christmas, it was with the full intention of jumping your bones.”

“Right,” Derek said faintly, thinking of how fantastic a start to his year that would have been.

“But then your girlfriend was there.”

“Not my girlfriend,” Derek said quickly, “she was – is, still – a horrible mistake.”

“I guessed. I was talking to Isaac and he said you’d never had a girl or guy around, which is weird, ‘cause you ooze sexual magnetism.”

“Thanks. I think.”

“And,” Stiles carefully linked his hand with Derek’s own, “then I realised that you might actually have a thing for me too. I’d catch you looking, or you’d tell me something crazy personal that would kinda take my breath away and – yeah. Then things started to get a bit stale with Perry and we were more friends with benefits than anything and I was going to call the whole thing off but then – my dad, god, that messed up my head. I couldn’t even think straight for the longest time.”

“Oh.”

“’cause to me, the thing with Perry was just casual but I never thought or realised what it would look to an outsider and then I started to freak out, because what if you did feel the same? And I talked to Perry and he said he understood if I wanted to take a break, since he still had feelings for his ex – but he said that he and I was part of him moving on, and I needed to decide whether I wanted to try something with you, or move on and - ” Stiles gestured. “I wanted to try, so we called it off and – now is now.”

“Oh.”

“Oh?” Stiles drew back, looking mildly peeved. “I’m pouring my heart out here! Explaining how you nearly drove me insane with your mixed signals and how my mind was this close to imploding and you give me ‘oh?’!”

“You made me crazy about you and then you got a boyfriend,” Derek said defensively. Stiles blinked.

“Crazy about me?” his face broke into a wide smile. “Oh my god, actual secret cutie-pie Derek Hale.”

“Never call me that again.”

“You blamed me for making you ‘crazy about me’, which is a pretty cheap shot. I didn’t know you felt that way. If I did, I would’ve done something sooner.”

“Oh.”

Stiles rolled his eyes, “back to ‘oh’ again,” he muttered.

“It’s just,” Derek slowly brought himself to his feet, tugging Stiles with him. Stiles drew himself up to his full height. It was then that Derek realised that Stiles was as tall, if not taller than him. “Where do we go from here?”

Stiles shrugged, “if you’re game for grabbing some dinner or seeing a movie sometime that would be pretty sweet.”

“Yeah – yeah, that sounds great.”

Stiles practically beamed and Derek felt his own lips twitch in response, “yeah, it does,” he agreed happily. “Though maybe we keep it on the down low with our beloved co-workers, since they’ll probably try and set up a wedding as soon as they get word of this – oh, woah! I mean, like, not that I expect any of that, it’s just - ”

Derek cleared his throat, “I get what you mean.”

Stiles seemed to quell at this, and he playfully slapped Derek on the arm, “so,” he grinned impishly, “you’re ‘crazy about me’?”

“You’re literally never gonna let that go, are you?”

“Nope.”


 

Two weeks later, and Derek was the closest to cloud nine he’d ever been. They were still keeping things on the down low, since zoo gossip spread like wildfire and Derek loathed gossip.

But it didn’t stop him tangling his fingers with Stiles as they made their now (according to Stiles) legendary walks to work.

“I think Isaac knows about us,” Derek said as Stiles greeted the tropical birds.

“Yeah, I think he’d have guessed by now. Or maybe Danny told him.”

“How does Danny know?”

Stiles looked to him pityingly, “Danny knows everything, it’s why his dimples are so big.” Stiles nodded conspiratorially and whispered, “they’re full of secrets.”

“You just quoted something at me, didn’t you? You do that a lot.”

“Yeah, I do take advantage of your limited cinema taste and since I’m pretty sure Tom Hanks wasn’t in Mean Girls, I decided to go for it,” Stiles suddenly doubled over with laughter, “oh my god, I just imagined him standing on a table and saying he wants to bake a cake of rainbows and smiles.”

“What?”

Stiles wiped away a tear, “oh man, that’s it. This weekend, you’re coming over to my house and we’re having a movie marathon.”

“Sounds okay with me.”

Stiles grinned and tugged Derek in for a kiss. That was his favourite part. Kissing Stiles whenever he wanted. Having a lunch break alone together? Tug Stiles into his lap and kiss him until he giggles about stubble burn. Quiet moment out in the enclosure? Kiss him because he can. Whenever, Derek just could, and he didn’t think it was possible to get over that.

For the first time in what feels like the longest time, Derek could say that he was undeniably happy.