"Do you want to do it?"
Derek blinked as Deaton placed a syringe in his hand.
"Just slip it in there," he pinched a scruff of her skin, "press down and she'll drift off."
Nodding, Deaton stepped back. "When you're ready."
Stiles and Isaac loitered silently in the corner, ready to help if anything went wrong. Derek couldn't see why - She was already tranquilized and too weak to even lift her head from his lap.
Laura whimpered softly as a far off door clanged, her eyes fluttering open. Derek scratched her ears - favourite spot - and down her muzzle - also a favourite - until his fingers made contact with her painfully dry nose. He swallowed.
"I'll miss you, pup.".
It'll be the only time he'll admit his voice cracked. She whimpered again. He slid in the needle, and finally, she slept.
The next few weeks blended into repetitive monotony. Remus began to pine for his mate, howling grief ridden wails as he grew more and more frantic, unable to understand she was long gone. Soon enough, he began to quieten down, trailing aimlessly around the enclosure in unintentional mimic of her.
Derek slogged through the days, falling into a pleasantly numbing routine. Isaac was still learning. Stiles was still painfully chipper. They both seemed totally undeterred when Derek began giving them more important duties, and were only too happy to slowly edge into the pack, letting the wolves learn their scent and sound as Derek shouted advice from the sidelines.
“Push him away – he’s not the boss of you.”
“Let her nip at you. She’s just playing.”
“Don’t meet her gaze Isaac, look away. Submit.”
But when he wasn’t instructing, things went oddly quiet. As if the world had all but stopped, only the slowly shrinking days showing any real pass of time. He instructed, then he prepared the Pack food in silence. Did paperwork in silence. Ate lunch in silence.
And it was becoming harder to get out of it.
The emptiness was an old, painfully familiar feeling, Derek thought as he made his way to the car park. One he never thought he’d feel again.
Though really, life was one cruel bitch and he should definitely know that.
“I’m not going to tell you that you can’t grieve.”
Stiles should put his ability of showing up from nowhere to better use, really.
“Good evening to you, too.” Derek muttered. Stiles didn’t smile.
“You can grieve – I’m not going to say she was ‘just an animal’ because the minute you start thinking these are ‘just animals’ is the minute you become a bad keeper,” Stiles dropped his gaze to the ground, kicking a stray carton. “You’re still a great keeper - but … you’re kind of gone? It’s like you don’t even know if you’re sad or angry or depressed anymore. You’re blank,” he rolled his neck, stretching out a crick probably formed when Ickle had pinned him.
"I'm not ... " Derek didn't bother to finish the sentence. Damning proof.
“I've been meaning to talk to you about this for a while .. though you can tell me to shut up – as totally is your favourite thing – but I think right now, you’re so stuck in thinking of everything bad that you can’t not think of bad things. You can't move on, because you won't let yourself …” He waved in hands erratically. “’Kay. Example.”
“My Mom ... Died. And when she did, for a bit, it was all I could think about ... But after a while, I started randomly thinking about my dead Nana and a neighbour who had a heart attack right in front of me and a family friend who died in a car crash… even my old hamster, Pickle Pie, as well as her. Everything was about what I’d lost, nothing was about … what I had coming? Which would’ve broken my Mom’s heart actually, she had big plans for my future,” he smiled sadly up at Derek, “eventually, my Dad – who was still grieving himself – sat me down and gave me some awesome Stilinski advice, which I’m departing onto you, so you better take it. 'cause this Stilinski advice is on parr with Stilinski marinara sauce. Huge secret.” He fished in his pocket for his keys, and only then did Derek realise they’d traced a path all the way to the Car Park.
“Don’t move past it. Move through it,” he shrugged. “You clearly had some really heavy stuff happen to you, and it’s kinda been dragged up again … but don’t let it hold you back … Anyway.” Suddenly, Stiles was his exhaustingly hyper self again. It was oddly concerning how quickly the transition had been. “I miss grumpypants Derek. I liked winding him up – you know I went home the other day totally unbruised? You’re letting yourself slide, man.”
Without another word, Stiles hopped into his Jeep, started the engine and waved for Derek to move and drove off, gravel kicking up behind him.
Derek stayed in car park, thinking about Laura as a pup; her shyness and sweet temperament. When she’d first been weaned from bottle and followed Derek like a lost lamb and when she’d first met Stiles and been so confused as to why his sweater smelt of Derek, that she’d attempted to tug it off him with her teeth.
At that memory, for the first time in a long time, Derek smiled.
He’d get through it.
He’d gone through worse, after all.
“Last years cubs will be coming into season soon and we introduced some males before you started working here,” Derek pressed clipboards into Isaac and Stiles’ arms. “So watch the females, see who they attempt to mate with, write it down. Got it?”
Stiles pulled a face. “Wolf voyeurism?! No one told me this was on the cards!”
“You still want a job at the end of the month?”
“Then do it.”
Grousing at the clipboard, Stiles pouted. “I’m going to join a Union after this!”
“ … And I’m going to eat some lunch, what’s your point?”
“I’m pretty sure there’s some sort of law about making employees watch wolves hump.”
Resisting the urge to facepalm, Derek grit his teethm eight more months he told himself. “I’m not asking you to stay until the happy ending! Only … the previews.”
“Can’t we just Google the synopsis?” Isaac asked, flinching as Gothel snapped at his legs. Gothel, a new female, liked Isaac just about as much as Carl liked Stiles. Derek really had to applaud the pack on their ability to hold grudges.
“Why are you acting like children? This is a pretty big part of the job – it’s just breeding!”
“Question.” Isaac gnawed anxiously at the end of his pen. “What if they try to mount us?”
Derek smiled sweetly. “Write it down and expect a congratulatory card on the nuptials.”
Stiles huffed tetchily. “Sarcasm is my thing.”
Derek’d been hoping the trainees would go with instinct and figure out what to do when a 90lb horny lump of fur tried to make sweet love to their leg. Apparently, the answer wasn’t as glaringly obvious as hoped.
“Kick them off. Though it could be a good sign, it means you’re definitely pack.”
“Does it also mean wolves think I’m sexy?”
Derek couldn’t quite figure out if Isaac was being serious. Stiles just shook his head. “It means wolves want to have little wolf babies with you, move to an area with good schools and maybe get a Volvo.”
“Wolves can’t drive Volvos.”
“That's what you got from that?”
As it transpired, whacking a clipboard onto a skull will produce a deeply satisfying thunk as well as a squawk of protest.
“Get. To. It.”
The thing about working at a zoo was the sudden bursts of activity. During peak season, Derek could expect a day to fly by in a blur of busy hubbub. Towards the end of autumn and in winter, the Zoo was closed, only the keepers and essential staff staying to keep things running.
The place was dead in early November time, which was why he’d chosen to started the mating census early. He privately admitted it was one of the weirder aspects of his job, but necessities were necessities.
And a tiny bit boring.
Also they’d have to be doing this for the next month or so.
The radio crackled at his hip. Danny’s voice echoed out, distorted by distance and bad transmission.
“Visitor … earlier… front desk.”
There was a buzz of static and a far off voice.
“Says … fam … urgent”
“Can’t hear you.”
“Pe … hang on …”
The radio cut out and came back in again, clearer than before. Danny cleared his throat.
“Peter? … Peter Hale.”
“He left a message.”
“What was it?”
“I don’t know if I wrote it down properly. He was kind of in a hurr - ”
“What. Was. It.”
There was a pause. A crackle. A shuffle of papers. Finally, Danny spoke hesitantly.
“She got parole.”