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That Creeper, the Zoo Keeper

Chapter Text

To: R.Stilinski@Beaconzoo.com
From: D.Hale@Beaconzoo.com
Subject: (No Subject)

Can you work today? Isaac called in sick

Derek Hale
Head Keeper, Wolf Enclosure

-

To: D.Hale@Beaconzoo.com
From: R.Stilinski@Beaconzoo.com
Subject: (No Subject)

Sure :)

Stiles Stilinski,
Menial trainee and Poop Scooper, Wolf Enclosure

-

To: R.Stilinski@Beaconzoo.com
From: D.Hale@Beaconzoo.com
Subject: (No Subject)

Thank you. But please change your signature, it's unprofessional. 

Derek Hale
Head Keeper, Wolf Enclosure

-

To: D.Hale@Beaconzoo.com
From: R.Stilinski@Beaconzoo.com
Subject: (No Subject)

Hahaha no

Stiles Stilinski,
Menial trainee and Poop Scooper, Wolf Enclosure

-

To: R.Stilinski@Beaconzoo.com
From: D.Hale@Beaconzoo.com
Subject: (No Subject)

Change it. 

Derek Hale
Head Keeper, Wolf Enclosure

-

To: D.Hale@Beaconzoo.com
From: R.Stilinski@Beaconzoo.com
Subject: (No Subject)

Make me :D :D :D

Stiles Stilinski,
Menial trainee and Poop Scooper, Wolf Enclosure

-

To: R.Stilinski@Beaconzoo.com
From: D.Hale@Beaconzoo.com
Subject: (No Subject)

I will smother you in gravy and lock you in the enclosure.

Derek Hale
Head Keeper, Wolf Enclosure

-

To: D.Hale@Beaconzoo.com
From: R.Stilinski@Beaconzoo.com
Subject: (No Subject)

I love Passive-Aggressive death threats in the morning. It really makes coming into work voluntarily that much more fun. 

Stiles Stilinski,
Menial trainee and Poop Scooper, Wolf Enclosure

-

Derek rolled his eyes and typed out a 'Just shut up and get here.' , mashing the Enter key with a resounding clack. He didn't dislike Stiles (much) but the kid really, really irked him. It was like Lupa and Romulus, two of the Grey Wolves; Lupa would follow Romulus around, yapping and nipping at his heels until Romulus would snap and deal out a swift - and bloody - reprimand, and yet Lupa would keep prodding and poking, seemingly oblivious to the beatings. 

His computer pinged 'on my way, grumpy pants'  


 

Derek hadn't meant to take on Stiles. After Rosa, a Mammology student, left for college, he'd been fine with the one Trainee - Isaac - and was perfectly happy looking after the pack as things were. He had other staff, such as night keepers and the keepers from other exhibits would always lend a hand with grunt work. 

And then the newly promoted Security guard said he'd turn a blind eye to Derek's little habit of sneaking in the enclosure after hours, providing 'his kid Stiles' could snag the spare trainee poisition to gain experience before he left for college to study Animal Science. 

In retrospect, Derek thought the deal was probably a bad life decision. 

Isaac was a handful as it was, but having two inexperienced keepers running around wasn't something Derek was a huge fan of. On Stiles' first day, he'd miraculously broken the visitors gate, (twice) fallen down the rusty metal stairs that led up to Derek's office and made an enemy out of a young Beta Wolf named Carl.  

To give the guy some credit, however, he was pretty good at picking up skills as he went along. Even if acquring these skills meant a lot of bruising and medical forms for Derek to fill out. 

As if aware he was being thought about, Stiles poked his head around the door and grinned in a far too cheery manner for a man who had been threatened with grievous bodily harm not one hour ago. 

"Good Morning!"

"Yeah."

Stiles waited for an elaboration, shook his head and snorted, "so who pissed in your cornflakes? Or you know, on your leg. Damn wolves."

Derek's lips twitched, "Carl again?"

"He won't stop! Do I look like a fire hydrant or something?"

"Or something."

Stiles yanked a handful of tissues from the box on Derek's desk, gagging slightly as the putrid smell grew with every scrub of his leg."Hilarious dude. Now, what's on the agenda today?"

"I need to finish this and then move Laura from Isolation ... You need to take round the Field Trip coming in at nine with Allison," Derek dug out a pack of unscented wet wipes and slid them along to Stiles, "but clean yourself off first, you stink of piss."

Stiles saluted with the wipes, rotated one one leg, and marched from the office. Derek watched the bizarre display in intrigued confusion, not at all comforted by the fact there was still 10 months left of the kid's employment. 


 

"Next we have the Grey Wolf exhibit. This pack have been established at Beacon Zoo for ten years and consists of 19 wolves - it is currently managed by Derek Hale who unfortunately could not spare the time to talk to you today, much to his sadness," from his refuge in the office, Derek could hear the tiny smirk in Allison's voice, "so instead we have Trainee Keeper, Ru - "

"ahem - Stiles! - ahem."

"Stiles Stilinski, who is going to tell us lots about wolves. Stiles, everyone!"

There was a totally unwarranted round of applause.

"Hey kids! I've only been working here for a few months, but I like to think the Wolves and I get along and there's a definite feeling of 'pack' with - oh, young lady in red coat, do you have a question?"

A girl's voice wavers up. "Can you do a howl for us?"

"Ha! Can I fuuuu - uh, no, I can't, sorry."

Allison's voice sudden drifted up, sickly sweet, "do a howl for the 5th graders." 

"I'm really not good at it."

There was a sudden babbling of high pitched pleas, the children all voicing an opinion and attempting their own piss-poor howls. After a long whine of protest, Stiles warbled something which may've have been a howl, but also may've been an impression of a dog being castrastrated. Allison snorted in amusement, not even trying to make it sound like a cough. 

" ... Thank you, Stiles." 

Feeling oddly exasperated, Derek kicked his wheely chair so it scooted along the floor, flung open the window, leant out and let out as loud a howl as he could muster. Immediately the children began squealing in excitement, something which increased tenfold when the Pack began to howl back. Derek returned to his paperwork, smirking as a small grunt of 'Show off' could be heard from below. 


 

The isolation pen was depressingly sterile and hospital like. It was usually for pups being bullied by its siblings, or bitches about to have litters and yet Laura was there alone -  and unwell. Butt as soon as the gate to the pen was unbolted, she trotted up to Derek, spry as anything and snuffled into his leg. He ruffled her ears affectionately.

"Are you going to eat today?"

She flopped onto the floor, baring her belly shamelessly in reply. Despite every protocol the Zoo had taken, Laura had become somewhat domesticated and had formed a perculiar attachment to Derek. It may've been because he'd been working with wolves for most of his life or it may've been that he'd shown blatant favouritism to this particular wolf. What could he say? When he helped Deaton deliver the litter she'd been part of, the tiny female runt had become an instant favourite. She was probably the thing he loved most about his job.

Clearly offended by Derek's distracted state, Laura began nudging at his hand with her dry nose. He chuckled and scratched her muzzle.

"If you eat today, I'll spend the whole of tomorrow playing with you. Is that a deal?"

Unfortunately, wolves aren't great at bargaining. Laura merely scrambled to her feet and stretched, totally ignoring all food Derek presented her with. After an hour of waving bloody morsels about, Derek flopped against the wall in defeat, letting Laura nose affectionately at him. Suddenly there was a rattling and clatter as the door to the pen was opened, and Stiles appeared, a 'I had an awesome time on the Beacon Zoo tour!' sticker stuck firmly to his uniform polo. He watched Laura snuggle happily into Derek and laughed.

"She's like a dog!"

"Wolf," Derek corrected. Though he had to admit, she wasn't a prime example of one.

"So? Dogs and wolves are related. I mean, they have little thanksgivings and everything! And there's always this one uncle that gets drunk but it's okay because, y'know, he's family." 

Derek likes to think he has perfected the 'what the fuck are you going on about, Stiles' face. Stiles likes to smile innocently in response to said face. 


 

The sun had barely breached the trees when Derek began unlocking for the morning, flicking on his computer and pouring a cup of murky coffee. The first hour of the day was almost the most tedious - the boring, menial tasks needing doing before he could tend to the pack. Email first. Then paperwork. 

It was only when he'd replied to all the emails did he realise something was wrong. Derek scowled as the problem - which seemed to have started overnight - refused to be resolved by the usual means. Someone had hacked his account and he could only think of one viable culprit. The only person that good with technology. 

-

To: D.Mahealani@Beaconzoo.com
From: D.Hale@Beaconzoo.com
Subject: Change it

Change it. Now.

Derek Hale,
Gotham's reckoning  

-

To:  D.Hale@Beaconzoo.com 
From: D.Mahealani@Beaconzoo.com 
Subject: RE: Change it

 ... You wake me up at seven in the morning for this? It wasn't me. Do it yourself

Danny Mahealani,
Staff Admin

-

To: D.Mahealani@Beaconzoo.com
From: D.Hale@Beaconzoo.com
Subject: RE: RE: Change it

I can't.

Derek Hale,
Wolfman Extraordinaire

-

To:  D.Hale@Beaconzoo.com 
From: D.Mahealani@Beaconzoo.com 
Subject: RE: RE: RE: Change it

 ... Does it change everytime you send a new message?

Danny Mahealani,
Staff Admin

-

To: D.Mahealani@Beaconzoo.com
From: D.Hale@Beaconzoo.com
Subject: RE: RE: RE: RE: Change it

Yes

Derek Hale,
Single, flirty, dirty!

-

To:  D.Hale@Beaconzoo.com 
From: D.Mahealani@Beaconzoo.com 
Subject: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: Change it

This is the best thing ever.

Danny Mahealani,
Staff Admin

-

To: D.Mahealani@Beaconzoo.com
From: D.Hale@Beaconzoo.com
Subject: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: Change it

No it isn't

Derek Hale,
Bootylicious 

-

To:  D.Hale@Beaconzoo.com 
From: D.Mahealani@Beaconzoo.com 
Subject: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: Change it

Oh god, I'm crying

Danny Mahealani,
Staff Admin

The temptation to punch the screen was fast building, but a short bark of laughter from the door slowly drew his gaze away from the offending email. Stiles stood in the doorway; arms folded and proudly smirking. Derek scowled.

"You're. Dead."

He lunged over the desk. Stiles yelped and scrambled for escape, only to be pinned against the wall.

"Change. It. Back."

"I can't!" Stiles huffed. "I put in a certain amount. It won't change back until you've used every one of them." 

"And how many did you put in?"

Stiles bit his lip with an ill-disguised giggle, "a lot. I spent hours coming up with them. That's dedication."

Derek grit his teeth. "Stiles."

"Oh come on! It's funny."

"I've sent an email to the Director of the Zoo with 'Bangin' Slammin' sexy chick' as my signature!" He hissed. Stiles made a strange, garbled noise and at first, Derek thought he was strangling the kid - but then Stiles started laughing. Hysterically.

"Oh my ... Oh my g-god!" Stiles slid onto the floor, cackling maniacally. "You sent - ahaha! This is - you sent an - oh my gooood! -" He choked another laugh at Derek's glaring. "Don't worry, I'm sure Gerard will be very impressed by your self confidence ... he probably thinks you're pretty bangin' slammin' too." Stiles broke off into further giggles and scrubbed away tears from his eyes, peering at Derek. 

"You're going to kill me, aren't you?"

"Yep." 


 

As it happens, Derek was feeling merciful that morning. He settled for subjecting Stiles to the unhappy duty of hacking up a sheep's carcass for the feeding time. 

"To be fair, that's not even the worst practical joke I played - you know Scott?"

"The Veterinary student?"

"Yeah. We use to play Lacrosse together, so I thought it would be funny to replace his energy drink with prune juice because - well, hilarious consequences - only I discovered something ... Yeah, fun fact: Scott is extremely allergic to Prunes. And I'm talking face swelling, twitching on the floor, can't breathe allergic." He slapped Derek's arm playfully. "So what I'm saying is that it could be worse, and you could be lying in a hospital bed with a tube stuffed down your throat. Though that would be the world's most extreme overreaction to a stupid email prank."

"Do you ever shut up?"

"Your charm and sunny disposition is definitely my favourite thing about this job." Stiles wiped a smear of blood from his cheek, hefted the sheep on his shoulder and went to throw it to the pack. Derek scrawled down the times of feeding in the Log book. 

Stiles squinted into the distance, poised at the entrance to the enclosure. "Hey, is Romulus trying to mount Lupa?"

"Dominance," Derek grunted, not looking up from the book. "Probably showing him who's boss."

The sheep dripped red as Stiles leant on the fence. "Nah, I reckon he's just got the hots for him. All that snapping and snarling? Come on. Unresolved Sexual Tension everywhere. Wouldn't be surprised if we have a little Wolfy Wedding on the horizon." 

Derek ignored him. According to the log book, Laura had all but abandoned her mate, Remus, in favour of skulking on the very outskirts of the enclosure and was still not eating. 

"Hey," Stiles' voice suddenly grew soft, breaking Derek's reverie. "You okay?"

"Fine."

"Just thinking - because, well, Laura's not been getting on so well since we moved her back from isolation." 

"Mmm."

"Think we should call in Deaton again?"

Derek licked his lips, "wondering whether to put her down, actually," he muttered.

He hadn't admitted it to himself until now - he'd avoiding even thinking about it, really - but it may've been the only humane option. Stiles nodded slowly.

"Your call," he said, "I was going to suggest putting her back in Isolation and hand rearing until the end. Make sure she goes in comfort."

"She's not 'comfortable' anywhere. She's not eating, not happy," he massaged his temple. "I'll tell Deaton to come by tomorrow."

Stiles, for once, said nothing. He just squeezed Derek's shoulder and disappeared off into the enclosure, sheep dragging in tow. 

Chapter Text

Outside the Wolf enclosure there was a small courtyard which branched off into other exhibits of the Zoo. It was usually filled with tourists flitting between the Reptile house and Ice cream stand, headed for the Penguin Pen or the Wolves Den and the occasional staff member could be seen dodging into a narrow alleyway which lead off into a Staff Room.

The main attraction in the courtyard today seemed to be a woman in a green shirt with 'Reptile Exhibit' stamped on. She was almost entirely covered by an enormous snake carefully draped over her shoulders. A few onlookers began to take pictures, edging away nervously as the snake flicked out it's forked tongue. Lydia hefted the Boa Constrictor with an elegant grunt, turning to Derek and Stiles as they made their way to the staff room.

"Boyd just radioed saying he had a group of people who wanted a picture with Tina, have you seen him anywhere?"

"No."

"Any clue as to where he is?"

"No."

Stiles lazily tickled Tina's head. "Your way with words is legendary, Derek. Have you considered writing poetry?"

"Funny."

"Monosyllibic Grunts - The Derek Hale Collection. Featuring favourites such as 'Brooding in my Leather Jacket' and 'Shut the hell up Stiles'," he registered Derek's scowl with a bright grin. "Are we about to get a reprise of the the latter?"

Still preening for the cameras, Lydia hissed out of the corner of her mouth. "Kindly take your bitching match elsewhere," she craned her neck, still searching for Boyd amongst the buzzing crowds, "and did I seriously haul a 60 pound snake around the zoo for no reason? I will feed him to her."

Looking suitably chastised, Stiles strode off, tugging Derek along with him.

"That fact your dad has a gun is literally the only reason you're not Wolf food right now," Derek said, shrugging off the grip. Stiles clutched his chest in mock hurt.

"But, we've only just met! Believe me, I only get better the more you get to know me."

"Does that mean noisier?"

"It means conversation sparkles and my company becomes addictive." Stiles said loftily. Derek groaned and shoved the Staff Room door open.

"It means noisier, doesn't it?"

That was the thing about Stiles. Whereas Derek was happy to stay in his own mind and space, Stiles seemed to leap into everyone elses in a flash of chatter and rambling. Derek prefered to watch and observe, Stiles prefered to ... everything. Even then, as Derek leant against the kitchenette counter alongside Danny, Stiles was yammering at high speed to another trainee Derek vaguely recognised as being Jackson. Though it was eventually clear Jackson had far less patience than even Derek, as he slammed a hand on the table and bit out a rough -

"Shut up, Stilinski."

Stiles didn't even pretend look fazed or offended, "fine then. Get back to your scaly pals, Lizard King."

"Bite me, wolf boy."

Watching the two having what could only be described as a verbal pissing contest, Danny rolled his eyes, "we should keep them in a ten foot radius of each other at all times."

"Stiles can still annoy people from ten feet away, trust me."

Danny smirked into his coffee cup. "Don't be like that, he's a good guy under that layer of pure hyperactive ... thingy."

"One word. Bootylicious."

Danny's eyebrow tweaked in amusement. "That too, I suppose."

"I meant that stupid email prank. I meant 'Good guy' isn't the word."

Stiles chose that moment to demonstrate his uncanny knack of knowing when being mentioned, waving to Derek with a sheepish grin.

"You still pissed at me about that then?"

"When am I not pissed at you?"

" ... When I'm being quiet?"

"And are you ever quiet?"

Danny muttered something that sounded suspiciously like 'me-ow'. Derek glared. Danny shrugged.

"You two are turning into a ... sitcom double act or something. He's the happy go lucky comedy relief, and you are the terrifying eye candy with anger management issues and who may or may not have a criminal record. I'm just waiting for Fox to come sign you up for a series."

"How much of your day do you spend thinking about this sort of thing?"

"A lot. I have a tonne of time to kill ... My job extends to fielding calls, recording absences and generally wishing I had a better job," he pursed his lips thoughtfully, "you don't need another trainee, do you?"

Derek watched Stiles practice his howling - loudly - and seemingly oblivious to the furtive looks being cast in his direction.

"Really, really not." 


To: D.Hale@Beaconzoo.com
From: R.Stilinski@Beaconzoo.com
Subject: POETRY, BABY

I made a start on the poetry. don't worry, I won't call it plagiarizing, since this is the honest to god crap you have said to me

Shut the hell up, Stiles
Stiles. I mean it.
Seriously.
Shut up.
I can hurt you, Stiles.
Stiles, stop it
No. Put that down.
Stiles.
No. Sh. 
Be quiet.
I said, be quiet.
Be. Quiet. 
Stiles.
Stiles.
Stiles.
STILES, SHUT THE HELL UP.

 

So deep and profound. There are tears in my eyes.

Stiles Stilinski, 
Menial trainee and Poop Scooper, Wolf Enclosure


 "One bite?"

Laura registered the lump of meat with a feeble whine and a small lick to Derek's cheek. The first few grey droplets of Novemeber rain began to fall on them both, bringing an earthy smell to the rocks and grass of the Wolves' enclosure. Far off, a pigeon foolishly landed within the compound and met a swift demise at the paws of the Alpha, Fenton.

"Just one?"

No sign of acknowledgement.

"Come on. Today's not a good day to try my patience."

This time, Laura growled sympathetically.

"One bite and I'll scratch your belly?"

Laura expectantly flopped onto her back, but made no attempt to devour the food. Derek sighed, lobbed a hunk over to the wolves drawn by the tempting waft of raw flesh, and made busy with the aforementioned scratching.

Stiles came strolling through the enclosure, stumbling slightly over a few rocks. When he saw Derek, he offered a jerky wave, grinning in a strangely false manner.

It wasn't until Derek noticed the tranq gun slung over Stiles' shoulder did he realise the reason for the stilted stiffness of someone who usually seemed so free in his actions. He fixed his gaze on Laura as Stiles finally clambered over the last rock, face finally stripping itself of all pretence. 

"Deaton's here."

Chapter Text

"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." 

"Right."

 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?”

“Yeah …”

“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.

Fun.

The radio crackled at his hip. Danny’s voice echoed out, distorted by distance and bad transmission.

“Visitor … earlier… front desk.”

“Who?”

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.”

Derek froze.

“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.”

Chapter Text

Derek’s feet led him to the car park that evening. His head was a faraway mess, thoughts of Kate, Fire, Peter melding and splitting off into one and other.Somewhere from the back of his mind, push through it could be heard.

As soon as he ducked into his car, and the engine came to life, the heavens above seemed to take this as a sign to open. A torrent of rain began to pound down from the blackened clouds, catching a figure in the far end of car park by surprise. Derek watched the person sprint for their car, soon realising it was a very sodden, very downtrodden looking Stiles.

A brief fork of lightening licked across the sky and a rumble sounded soon after. It happened a second time. And a third. A forth. A fifth. Derek watched in quiet awe, hands still gripping the steering wheel.

He could see Stiles wrench open the door to his Jeep and clamber in, only to just sit there for a few seconds and … punch the dashboard? That was it. Stiles was officially and inarguable an oddity living merrily on a planet of weirdness.

A streak of lightening ignited the sky, chased by thunder and layered with torrential rain. The storm was getting louder and closer – he should get home.

Derek casted a quick glance back in Stiles’ direction, engine idling impatiently. Stiles was out of the car and into the rain, glaring into the open bonnet and back facing Derek. In a fit of unmitigated pity. Derek found himself swinging out of his warm car and slushing across the car park to the swearing trainee.

 “Oh COME ON!”

“Problem?”

Stiles whipped his head up from the engine, shrieking as his skull made sudden contact with the Jeep hood.

 “Only you could make one word sound the unholy combination of pitying, smug and amused.” Stiles muttered, rubbing his head. Derek rolled his eyes.

 “Problem?” He asked again.

“Jeep’s not starting.”

“I can see.”

“Then why did you ask?” Stiles snapped. Uncharacteristic, but seeing as there seemed to be a monsoon starting up, Derek decided Stiles was entitled a hissy fit. so he inhaled a levelled breath and flipped the bonnet back open. “Any idea what the problem is?”

Tone laced with what may be surprise at Derek’s sudden helpfulness, Stiles slowly shook his head. “Nope.”

“You know anything about Jeeps?”

The keys jiggled as Stiles see-sawed his hand. “Kinda, I’ve messed with this one when it wasn't working. Do you?”

“They used to have Jeeps to get around zoo. I helped my dad fix a couple.”

Stiles blinked, curiosity piqued. “Your Dad works here?”

Derek clenched a fist.

“No.”

“Oh.”

With a gruff cough, Derek shoved back his sleeves and returned to impromptu mechanic status - rummaging and muttering to himself. After a few minutes of being completely soaked by the downpour and becoming increasingly frustrated by the state of the tortured Jeep, Derek slammed the bonnet shut. “It’s fucked.” He said plainly, the raindrops plinking on the metal. Siles groaned.

“I’m not going to get a tow in this weather, am I? They’ll be swamped.”

“Your dad?”

“Is out on a date.”

“ … Cab?”

“Probably won’t come out here in a storm.”

“Saddle up a zebra?”

Stiles’ mouth twitched with the beginning of a smile.

“Wouldn’t carry my weight.”

“Oh,” Derek shrugged. “Try the wolves with a sled.”

 Stiles smiled again, but when a crack of lightening spurred on the already furious rain, he whined.

“I ... uh … I really don’t know how I’m gonna get home.”

Derek wasn’t totally clueless – he could tell a when someone was obviously hinting, at least. But he decided to be the one winding up Stiles for once. After all, Stiles was always telling him to ‘use his words’ – it was entirely hypocritical to do something as shameless as hint.

“Neither do I. Night, Stiles.”

“Uh …”

“See you tomorrow. Don’t forget we have a ‘surprise’ inspection coming up.”

“Well …”

Derek strode off to the safety of his car, offering a small wave as he drove past Stiles, Derek felt both a spasm of guilt and the overwhelming urge to laugh at the pale, exasperated face of his collegue – that pale face suddenly came a lot clearer as Stiles flung himself in front of the car, shrieking ‘STOP!’

Derek obligingly braked and open the passenger door to the tiniest of margins.

“Problem?”

“Can I have a ride, please?”

“Sure.” Derek cocked his head pityingly. “You really should have used your words.”

Stiles gasped out a surprised laugh and slid into the car, dripping water onto the seat. “God you’re a bastard.” He said happily.

“No need to thank me.”

“A huge bastard.”

“I know.”

Stiles huffed another laugh. “I’m joking dude, you’re now officially a ‘nice guy’ for this.” He indicated the car and path they would follow “– though I seriously thought you were going to leave me there.”

“Tempting, but Hypothermia makes filling out medical forms a real bitch. This charity is entirely totally logistical,” Derek pulled out into the main road, “Which way?”

“Half an hour down the road and I’ll direct you from there, but you can always turn right and drop me off at Scott’s – it’s only ten minutes that way.“

Derek turned left, “I think you live near me.”

“I do? Awesome.” Stiles flushed and flailed. “Like, that you can drop me home so my Dad doesn’t worry – but – no – I don’t think it’s awesome that you leave near me – though I don’t mind – uh – what I’m trying to say, is that – like – I’m not going to turn up at your window at three am or – that’s weird – uh - ”

“Stiles.”

“Shut up?”

“Stop rambling.”

Stiles ‘oh’d and Derek could detect a trace of surprise. He decided to ignore it – after all, he only snapped at Stiles to Shut Up twice daily. If that. Stiles hummed.

“So … Did your Dad work with the pack too?”

“Yeah, he and my Mom started the conservation of the Zoo’s pack ... The Argents bought the land a different pack’s territory was established on to create the Zoo – so then most of the Wolves moved on once construction began, I mean, wolves aren't even meant to be in this part of California … but one pregnant female got separated. My parents pulled a couple of strings, got permits and used their land to make sure the Wolf had somewhere to stay and have her cubs. Two stray male omega’s joined her, the cubs were born and then it became apparent another pack was being started … only they couldn’t hunt, because most wildlife had fled whilst the Zoo was being built. Ironic right?” Derek shook his head. “So Mom and Dad ended up caring for the pack by hand, trading meat with the Zoo for – like I said – My Dad fixing up Jeeps. Eventually we built fences to stop rival packs coming back and harming the Settlers whilst they were still weak,” he shrugged, “and that’s how the pack started.”  

“That was the most I ever heard you say,” The amusement in Stiles’ voice really shouldn’t have made Derek smile, “So why did they become part of the Zoo?”

The smile fell away immediately. Stiles didn’t seem to notice, eyes fixed on the rain washed road ahead. “The Argents and your parents collaborate or something?”

“Something,” He hesitated. “My parents died. I was too inexperienced to look after the remainder of the pack myself.”

Stiles choked. “Oh – oh shit. I - I didn’t know, I wouldn’t - ”

“It’s fine.”

“Right. Sorry to … drag it up.”

“It’s fine.”

The curiosity radiating off Stiles burnt.

“10 years ago,” Derek supplied quietly to the unasked question, “house fire.”

A sharp gasp and a muttered ‘fuck’ was his reply. Derek drummed the steering wheel, blinking rapidly as another flash of lightening scorched through.

“10 … ” Stiles repeated after a long, painful silence. “10.” He repeated again in slight wonderment. “In … May time?”

Derek frowned, but nodded. “Yeah, do you remember seeing it on the news?”

“Vaguely, but …” Stiles swiped at the water trickling from his fringe. “But something …” He gesticulated, “do you remember sitting in the hospital waiting room after … after the fire?”

Of course he did. Nurses kept coming back and forth, offering him candy, tea and ‘sugar for shock’. There was an annoyingly chirpy care worker. There were police officers. Talk of legal guardians.

And there was a boy …

Derek stared at Stiles, who grinned back.

“You were sitting alone, waiting for a care worker or something, and some kid in mismatched converse and a Batman t-shirt comes up to you and says - ”

“ … The nurse in the blue scrubs has the best candy.” Derek finished, lips twitching.

“And you said - ”

“Piss off.”

Stiles nodded, giggling with newly glassy eyes.

“But he didn’t move. Just asked you for a hug.”

“And I told him to piss off again.”

“’Piss off before I hurt you’ actually … but he still didn’t move. Just sat on the seat next to you took your hand.”

“And …”

“And you didn’t let go.”

They drove in silence for the rest of the journey. It wasn’t an awkward silence, but wasn’t a comfortable one either.

It was just peaceful.

Chapter Text

As Derek weaved around the twigs and branches torn from the trees during the storm, he was almost at peace with life. After all, it’s hard to be miserable when everything had been iced with a thin layer of frost and the air had been painted with a muted morning pink.

Derek crunched through frost masked leaves, watching the Pack yelp and play as their breath fogged around them, they were like little pups, really. At his arrival, they gambolled over, yipping happily at him. 

The wolves were on a fast day to ‘closely simulate their eating habits in the wild’ as Derek would say. ‘To stop them from becoming furry little fatasses, however cute that would be – actually, it would be pretty awesome, can we slip ‘em an extra deer? Please?’ as Stiles would say.

The Pack were usually okay with fasting, but the day after the storm – it must’ve been the cold snap making them hungrier or something  – Derek was treated to a group of very tetchy wolves. They circled expectantly as Derek approached, waiting for food that never made an appearance.

 “Don’t know what you guys are looking at,” Derek said as they swarmed around him, their ears flat and noses twitching, “nothing for you until Satur – ow!”

With a snarl, one of the betas – Derek never saw which – had lunged and snapped furiously at his hand. He’d been bitten before and was constantly being playfully nipped at, but the burst of pain and warm trickle of blood was something else.  He rapidly retracted his hand, cradling it in the other.

“Ack! Ka!” He barked out. Sharp, monosyllabic yelps were the best way to shout down a pissed off wolf and it seemed to do the trick – the creatures slowly backed away and eventually trotted further off into the enclosure, tails swishing angrily behind them.

Watching the pack warily, Derek ran a finger across the small, jagged marks across the base of his thumb. Thankfully the cut wasn’t deep and he was up to date with his tetanus.

All things considered, Derek should’ve guessed that would be the best news of the day.


 ‘Derek’s Den’ as christened by Isaac, was small and cramped. The wood panelled walls were covered in feeding charts and rotas, the floor dominated by a large desk and a patchy couch. Most surfaces were piled high with neat stacks of paperwork save the desk, which held Derek's laptop and on that day, a jumble of bandages and tissues.

Derek patted his hand dry and – with a small wince – began applying antiseptic ointment. His desk wasn’t exactly ideal for impromptu medical care, but since he had the first aid kit stashed away in the drawer, it had to suffice.

 “That won’t need sutures, but I’d recommend a Steri-Strip or two.”

Swearing as he jolted in surprise, Derek whipped his head up at full speed, staring at the source of the familiar voice.

“Thought you'd be the sort to arrive bright and early," the man stretched in doorway, his skin pulling tautly over a once handsome face, “what’s with the hand?”

“Wolf,” Derek grunted. “What’re you doing here?”

“Just seeing how you were doing. I am after all your legal guardian.”

“I’m 25.”

“And yet still the same adorable 4 year old I taught to swim,” Peter sighed with faux reminiscence, “ah, you loved that ducky float. Couldn’t get you out of the fucking water whenever we used it.” He rolled his eyes at Derek’s scowl. "Had a call from anyone interesting lately?”

“An estranged, deranged Uncle recently tracked me down at work.”

“Good to see you too!”

“What do you want?”

“I repeat,” Peter said slowly, as if dictating the principles of nuclear fusion to a toddler, “Have. You. Had. A. Call. From. Anyone. Interesting?”

 “No. She hasn’t contacted me.”

Rain began to drip lazily on the window, grey light flooding the tiny room. Peter reached into his pocket and drew out a phone. “Got this last night.” He flashed the screen at Derek.

Glad to see my family took care of you and Derek.

K

“That it?”

“What you’ll want to remember is that I never spoke to her,” the phone clattered as Peter dropped it onto Derek’s desk without care. He indicated the rough skin on his face and neck. “I’m not surprised the Argents welcomed her back with open arms. They never believed she was guilty - ”

“ – no one did – ” Derek cut in bitterly.

“Second degree murder was too harsh of a charge for them. I was surprised when they offered to take you on here.”

“Guess they were trying to bribe me out of testifying.”

“You shouldn’t have done anyway.”

“Why not?”

Pity mixed with amusement swept across Peter’s face. “There was never any proof that she wasn’t just being careless. There’s nothing to say she intended to kill them.”

“But she did.”

“I know. But she’s served ten years, had another hearing and got parole for…” His lips curled thinly. “’Good behaviour’.”

“What?"

“You heard,” Peter absently brought up a mottled hand to stroke the rough skin on his face. “But the American Legal System is a delightfully fickle fuck. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to my Bell Tower.”

Derek looked blank.

“Quasimodo? Deformed freak? Seeing any parallels?”

What does this - ?”

“You have serious gaps in your knowledge,” he ruffled Derek’s hair with vigour, little affection in the gesture, “though I suppose banging a woman twice your age will lead to disrupted learning.”


 By the time Stiles and Isaac arrived, Derek was at the end of his tether. His hand throbbed everytime he flexed his fingers and he ended up delagating all hands-on task to the trainees. Stiles had pointed to the bandaged hand, a curious frown forming on his face. Derek waved him off irritably. 

 “Okay, breeding census. I’ve managed to get some other people to help but this is going to carry on until late winter, so suck it up,” he handed a clipboard to Isaac, whilst Stiles readied himself for cleaning duty, “wolf breeding can be tricky. We need to keep on top.”

 “Was that a pun?”

“No.”

Stiles waggled a finger teasingly. “It sounded like a pun.”

“It wasn’t.”

“Did Derek make an ickle pun?”

There was no pun, Stiles.”

Isaac was watching the two with eyebrows raised so high, he gave the impression of having recently suffered a mild electric shock. “I did some reading this weekend.” He said suddenly.

Stiles turned to him, finger still poised mid-wag. “Er … That’s great!”

Isaac nodded solemnly as Stiles waited for an elaboration – which never made an appearance. After a stilted silence, Derek snapped out - 

“Are you going to tell me you also drew some pretty pictures and are waiting for a fucking gold star or are you going to finish that sentence?”

Immediately, Isaac’s expression changed from electro-shock victim to kicked puppy. He shrugged, head hung low.

“Just thought it was weird that the Alpha’s weren’t the only mated pair, that’s all.” He mumbled, Derek exhaled sharply.

“Usually it is just the Alpha pair, but it’s not unheard of for other wolves to pair off and breed. Especially in captivity.”

“Right,” Isaac nodded and shuffled out the room. “Guess I should get to it.”

“Good.” Derek attempted to keep the aggression out of his voice. He thought he was actually doing pretty well – until the door closed and Stiles punched him in the arm. Pretty hard, really.

“What the hell is your problem?!”

“What?”

“Why’d you have to go and be such an ass to him?”

“He’ll get over it.”

Stiles laughed in disbelief, shaking his head almost pityingly. “Okay, maybe you have serious issues communicating beyond angered growls and grunts, but I don’t and I can tell you,” Stiles’ voice dropped to an darkened whisper, “that he gets enough of that at home, so if you could drop the ‘my life is crap and I’m not going to get over it’ thing, that would be great.”

Stiles suddenly found himself slammed against the wall, Derek holding his shirt in a vice grip.  

What did you just - ”

“This!” Stiles said loudly over Derek’s hiss. “This is what I’m talking about! Awful things have happened to you, I get it - ”

“ – Don’t you even - ”

“But you can’t take out your anger on someone like Isaac, Jesus man, the guy couldn’t look threatening in the Petting Zoo! In fact, if we sent him over there, the five year olds would probably try and feed him kibble.”

With a scoff and a rough shake, Derek released Stiles.

“Just shut up and go do your job.”

Stiles stumbled from the grip and straightened up with dignity. His jaw was tight, shirt rumpled from Derek’s hold but there was no trace of fear or intimidation.

 He simply looked disgusted.

“Just remember you’re not the only one with shit to deal with, yeah?”  


 Derek thought Stiles wouldn’t be the type to hold a grudge – the guy was just too damn chirpy. Yet for the rest of the week, Derek was on the receiving end of icy stares and uncharacteristic coolness.

Isaac seemed less bitter about the whole incident, dutifully carrying out tasks without so much as a scowl. But without a smile either – his head remained hung low and his shoulders never lifted from their morose slump. If Stiles was sulking (Derek had decided that was issue) then Isaac was plain moping. The whole issue reached its apex on Saturday, whilst they all hosed down the Iso Pen, and by then Derek had grown tired of the miserable and sickened looks cast by Isaac and Stiles respectively.

“Isaac.”

It was almost definitely fear on Isaac’s face as he appraoched and Derek felt a squirm of guilt.

“Listen. I’m sorry for what I said on Wednesday.”

The electro-shock look made a reappearance.

“If you need anything then… then say. Time off is fine. Talking is fine. If you need a place to stay - ”

“I could - ” Isaac piped up, suddenly looking keen. He blinked and reeled it in hastily. “I could, maybe, use a place to stay. Just… ”

“Oh.”

Derek genuinely wasn’t expecting that. “Well, uh, Danny has a beach house I crashed at when my place flooded  …there’s this little room above my office that I sleep in when one of the wolves needs overnight care or there’s my apartment - ”

“Sounds good.”

“ … My apartment?”

“No, the little room.”

“Oh.” Thank God. Derek breathed silently. “Okay.”

“It’d be nice. I like listening to wolves howl at night.” Isaac nodded over his shoulder, voice soft. “I can hear them from my bedroom sometimes.”

“I’ll clear it with the night manager.” Derek stretched crick in his neck. “That all?”

“…I guess. Yeah.”

“Good. Get back to work.”

Isaac fidgeted, twirling the mop anxiously. The squirm came back.

“Are you sure that’s it?”

Isaac nodded gratefully. “Yeah. And thanks.”

Stiles clattered into the room, arms laden with cleaning supplies. He was humming cheerfully.

“No problem.”


 On the wall in Derek’s office was a white board with an hourly timetable on. It was usually used to dictate feeding times or the cleaning rota but when Derek glanced at it to check if he was meant to be scrubbing the Iso Pen, he noticed an unfamiliar scrawl over the board. Squinting, he went up to inspect it and groaned -

7:00 – wake up, scowl at glorious sunrise

8:00 – Torture Stiles

9:00 – Preen

10:00 – Glare at things

11:00 – Terrify children and adults alike

12:00 – Eat lunch compromised of mortals tears and raw meat

13:00 – Frolic with pack

14:00 – Smoulder  

15:00 – Brood

16:00 – Be mysterious

17:00 – Be angry

18:00 – Be mysteriously angry

19:00 – Manly manpain

20:00 – Most probably punch Stiles

And as Derek read the chart, an exasperated – certainly not fond – smile eased onto his face.

“Uh… Derek?”

Derek cast a glance sideways to see Stiles loitering in the doorway.

“It’s four. Can’t you see I’m being mysterious?”

Stiles gaped for a second before letting his face settle into a blank mask. He nodded seriously. “Ah, of course… Well then. I’ll be back at eight for my punching.”

“Please be prompt.”

Stiles nodded again, his face still deadpan, and backed out of the room. As soon as the door closed a small chuckle could be heard. Derek smiled to himself.

It almost felt like being forgiven. 

Chapter Text

When Derek arrived at the Zoo bright and early, he expected to see nothing but the wolves lazily padding about in the dawn and maybe a bird flitting between the autumn-torn branches. He was banking on a nice quiet morning to finish outstanding paperwork and maybe get a start on –

Why the hell was there a box fort outside the office?

“Who's there?”

There was a yelp at the sudden noise. Stiles’ head appeared from within the fort, dirt streaked up one cheek. He grinned cheerily.

“Good Morning Sunshine!”

“What’re you doing?”

Stiles hefted a box, squeaking in surprise as the contents proved heavier than thought. “Helping Isaac move some stuff.” The metal stairs creaked as Stiles carefully stepped up them, “he’s just gone back to his car to get the rest.”

“More,” Derek repeated slowly, dread starting to build in his stomach. He heard the tell-tale squeak of the side door in the corner of his office and creak of the second set of stairs as Stiles made his way to the miniscule dwelling above. An echoed shout came out the tiny window.

“Yeah, you said he could stay here for a while.”

From the size of the stacks awaiting storage, Isaac was planning to stay longer than ‘a while’.

“I need to clear it with the night manager.”

“It’s fine, I got Dad to do it,” Stiles clattered back down the metal staircase and began sorting through the stacks. He shoved one of the weightier boxes towards Derek, “feel free to help.”

The choice seemed pretty minimal, so Derek grunted and hauled the box up the stairs. He stumbled over the top steps into his office, readjusted the box and began to make his way up the second set of stairs to Isaac’s new abode, staggering slightly along the way.

“Are these books?  How long is he going to stay?”

“For as long as it takes for his Dad - ” Stiles tailed off hesitantly as Isaac made a reappearance, laden with more clutter to store away. “Like I said. A while.”

The door in the corner of Derek’s office that hid a narrow set of stairs had never seen so much traffic. The three spent a good hour tucking away more and more junk into the room which had previously held only a small bed and side table, but was now home to a mountain of boxes pressed against one of the poster coated walls, a blanket layered bed, a groaning bookcase and a desk crowded in the corner, laptop and books piled high on top.

 As Isaac busied himself sorting away various knick-knacks, Derek yanked Stiles close and hissed in his ear.

“He can’t live here.”

 “I know! It’stemporary. Hey, you aren’t going to be all ‘Derek’ about this?”

“No, I’m going to be legal, about this,” he drew away, suddenly aware of their intimate proximity, “And what do you mean ‘Derek’?”

“I mean – well, you. All, dare I say it, nice one minute then BAM, severe bruising for Stiles. You confuse the hell out of me.”

Derek just laughed. Because the hyperactive enigma with a strong sentimental streak and a surprisingly large intellect called Stiles thought Derek was confusing.

Really.

Really.


 A few days later was Thanksgiving. Isaac had decided to hibernate all throughout the extra day off but Derek, having never cared much for the holiday, worked.

Surprisingly, Stiles had said it wasn’t a big deal in his house either and since they were short staffed, he was fine with working the day. ‘Stops my dad from feeling guilty about wanting to spend it with Melissa, anyway,’ he’d claimed as Derek led them down the very heart of the enclosure.

The wolves yipped and chased each other around as Derek and Stiles seated themselves, recording feeding times and breeding pairs with their feet dangling off the rock they perched on. It was surprisingly nice to just sit and watch the Pack with someone, even if said someone enjoyed keeping a running commentary on every. Damn. Thing. 

“Aw, Ickle is chasing his tail!”

“Oh God that’s Carl isn’t it? Ugh! Bad Carl! Stay away! I want to go home without being peed on – have mercy you wolfy bastard!”

“Hey I think Nyctimus is trying it on with Darc – oh wait, never mind. She just bit him in the face.”

After a while, Derek didn’t even bother with telling him to shut up.

The sudden crackle of the radio which interrupted Stiles’ babble was a glaring intrusion. Even the wolves stopped their playing to stare at the noise, ears peaked in confusion.

“Happy Thanksgiving!”

“Happy Thanksgiving, Danny.”

Derek and Stiles replied in perfect synchronicity, which made Stiles snort with laughter, which in turn confused the wolves further, meaning their playing only grew more frenetic and joyous and yeah, Derek would admit they could be considered cute at that moment. Especially when Stiles decided to practice his howling and the pack replied to him, their own howls echoing far and throughout the bare stripped trees. The look of pure elation on Stiles’ face as they called to him was pretty … well, pretty.

And that was Derek’s Thanksgiving; he thought it was a pretty good one—even if it was lacking a turkey.


 Three days after Thanksgiving, Lupa stopped eating. Five days after, he began to spend hours at a time lying on the floor, whining and whimpering in a terrifyingly familiar manner. Deaton came and went, prescribing complicated, hands-on care for the rest of the week.

Which meant Beacon Zoo’s resident lodger would have to find somewhere else to store his apparent library. Derek made his way up to the room as soon as Deaton listed the care required, intent on handling the issue of removing Isaac with utmost care.

“Isaac, you have to go. Now.”

Isaac’s eyes widened, looking aghast. He bunched the duvet in his hands as Derek mentally formulated a slightly less brutal request.

“Sorry, but I need to sleep here whilst Lupa is still sick and you’re too inexperienced to issue his night care,” Derek registered the posters and photos on the wall with a small sinking feeling. The kid was well and truly settled down. “You don’t have to move your stuff, it’s only for a few days.”

“Where will I go?”

Derek shrugged. After all it wasn’t his problem. Not. His Problem. Nope.

“Your house?”

Isaac nodded, face frozen with a tight jaw, “y-yeah. Okay,” he dropped his head and Derek was sure he saw a tear slithering down the bridge of Isaac’s nose. “Sure.”

Right, so that wasn’t a normal reaction for a kid who’d just been informed that he was going home. Home was usual a free meals, laundry being done for you, unconditional love deal.

So why was Isaac acting like Derek just shot a puppy in the face?

“You can go home, right?”

“Mhmm.”

His jaw was gritted so tight Derek was surprised Isaac could even make a sound.

“Do you want to?”

Isaac paused. Licked his lips. And shook his head.

“No.”

Derek wasn’t a camp counsellor, okay? He was there to teach Isaac about being a competent and compassionate animal keeper – not to sort out his every issue.

“Here.”

So why he rifled in his pockets and chucked a key at Isaac, was pretty beyond him.

“My apartment key. Stay there for a few days while I’m here.”

Isaac stared at the object as if it were a thing of both beauty and utter mystery, “are you sure?” he asked, awestruck.

“Just don’t mess with my stuff.”

“I won’t! Promise.”

“Good. I’ll drop you off tonight and show you where everything is.”

“Great! Thank you.”

Derek, unsurprisingly, was no stranger to awkward silences, but the one humming around the room right then was so painfully obvious, even he couldn’t bring himself to ignore it. So he nodded behind him and said, “now go see if that meat order has come through.”

Isaac obligingly scrambled off the bed and went off, Derek’s keys jingling in his pocket. As soon as Isaac went downstairs, Stiles came jogging up them.

“That was nice.”

Was nothing sacred in this workplace?

 Stiles seated himself on the top stair, inches away from Derek, “I mean the delivery needed some work, but the actual gesture? Nice.”

“I don’t need your approval for everything I do.”

It had meant to come out vaguely light hearted, but the comment when faced with Stiles’ genuine, friendly smile, just sounded snide. Stiles tilted his head as if to scrutinise Derek deeply. When he finally deigned to speak, Derek expected something almost profound considering the amount of contemplation Stiles had done before speaking.

Yet instead, he got:

 “’Just don’t mess with my stuff.’ Man, that’s another one for the poetry book.”


The middle of November to the start of January was off-season for Beacon Zoo. It closed down, leaving only the keepers and a handful of admin staff to keep the place ticking over, yet every year, the zoo reopened for a few days in November – giving people who’d grown tired of the crowds at malls and stores the chance to experience a slightly more wholesome day out with the family.

It was always a bit of a shock to the system for all employees when the surge of activity burst up after their peaceful off-season slump, especially on the first day. 

The morning was taken up by reintroducing a newly-healed Lupa to the pack, which also meant reintroducing Isaac to his ‘habitat,’ as Stiles had so fondly called it. The way both had happily scuttled back into their dwellings was oddly similar, and Derek couldn’t hold back a smirk when Stiles had muttered a ‘let’s hope he doesn’t start peeing on everything to remark his territory’ as Isaac began shoving clothes back into the room, grinning almost manically.

A small child then thought it prudent to start throwing candy over the fence and when Stiles had removed the sweet, it was discovered that they were the vile sugar-free sort which contained a sweetener substitute, Xylitol. In other words, the candy was chock full of wolf poison.

Headaches all around for the keepers, Deaton and Scott as they worked to figure out if any of the pack had ingested the substance.

Around lunchtime, two of the betas had started fighting a full-on battle for dominance. Some of the visitors had panicked and begun screaming that the wolves were going feral. Derek then had to deal with the wolves’ injuries whilst convincing Gerard via radio that there wasn’t a problem and no, it wasn’t necessary to send security downClearly the pack were going through some hierarchal shift and Derek resented the hell out of it.

By the time the last tourists had finished cooing over the ‘fluffy wolves,’ as they’d called them (no one mentioned the earlier bloodshed), Derek was pretty much exhausted. He slumped into his desk chair and then, with a small sigh, buried his face in his hands. He needed sleep. And a Tylenol. And maybe a drink.

“Hey Derek?”

Stiles peered down at Derek with apparent concern on his face.

“You okay?”

“Tired.”

“Same.” Stiles twisted the strap of his messenger bag. “Good day?”

“Long.”

“Guessed you might say that,” Stiles grinned nervously, fidgeting from foot to foot. After a minute or so of this awkward display, Derek splayed his hands out as if to say ‘anything else?’

Stiles noted the gesture with a shaky laugh.

“I meant to do this earlier but we got side tracked and – yeah. So, uh, I was getting some stuff out the attic yesterday and aside from a load of dust and my old toys and man, a PlayStation I ended up playing for five hours because I had some really awesome games - like Spryo, damn, 10 years on and I can still pulverise Ripto in a boss battle.”

Stiles must be better at small talk than that. He really must be.

“I found - well, my Mom was an artist and she did a lot of wildlife drawings, you know, of wolves and stuff. I always thought she just copied out of books but - maybe she actually saw some real ones?” He drew a photo frame out of his bag. “Mom’s the one in the middle.”

It was a picture of a pretty woman with warmly familiar eyes. On her left was a man, broad and grinning. Her right was a beaming woman with a shock of dark hair.

“I thought you might know something about it, since on the back it says ‘Hale Pack’.”

Derek slowly took the picture in his hand. His mother laughed widely back at him whilst his father just grinned his familiar, crooked grin.

“Yeah," he said, swallowing, "these are my parents.”

Stiles face bloomed from casual ease to ecstatic grin. He laughed.

“I knew it!”

All of the family pictures, few as there were, perished in the fire. Derek gripped the frame a little tighter.

“I took the picture, actually.”

“No way. So you met my mom?”

“Yeah. She was nice.”

Derek recalled the day. It was before things started to sour. The woman had turned up at the front door, clutching a large pad of paper. She’d asked – shyly, but with a sweet smile – if she could possibly observe the wolves, because creatures like that were too beautiful not to draw.

Derek had liked her instantly.

His mom had shown the woman (who’d thanked them profusely and said ‘Call me Rianne’) out to the fields and woods, pointing to areas frequented by the wolves. His dad had made lunch, and all of them  - Derek included – had sat outside in the sunshine, eating, talking and drawing until Rianne had said she needed to get back to her little boy.

She wanted to meet him at school because it was his birthday.

As Derek talked, Stiles’ smile grew wider and wider. Though it was nothing in comparison to the smile Derek felt when Stiles nodded at the picture and said, “Keep it. Please.”


 When Derek moved back into his apartment that evening, the picture took pride of place on his mantle. He wasn’t much for decorating – in fact, he would’ve stuck with the furniture that came with the place had it not flooded and been ruined – so the personal touch seemed to leap out in the non-descript room.

But had he not been so absorbed in the picture he might’ve noticed his phone flashing for attention.

1 new message, unknown number

And had he bothered to read the message and not stayed gently tracing the edges of the photograph with his thumb, he would’ve been treated to a jolt which was both a flare of anger and a painful punch to the gut.

See you tomorrow, Angel.

Chapter Text

Derek didn’t check his phone that evening.

He didn’t even spare it a second glance as it chirruped for a charge. He made dinner, ignoring its bleats and as he crawled into bed, his phone let out one last feeble request for charging and the screen went black, taking the message with it.

He slept easy that night.


 Derek had a routine for when got into work every morning. It was a simple, get from A-B in the shortest amount of time possible routine.

 Whilst visitors would obligingly trek through the wide, sprawling pathways that split and curved around enclosures, staff could dodge into narrow alleyways which cut any journey in half. That morning, he flashed his Staff Card to guard at the entrance same as always, checked in, same as always.

And then he collided with Stiles.

Yeah, that was less of a regular occurrence.

And maybe if Derek hadn’t been staring at the birds as they swooped low over the entrance arch, it wouldn’t even have been a happening. But the past is the past and Stiles was pretty clumsy, so there was a 75% chance it was somehow his fault anyway.

“Je - ”

Hot! Hot! So freaking Hot!”

Stiles shrieked and flapped his arms, coffee dripping in steamy slithers off his coat and onto his pants. Steam curled up from the damp fabric, staining it with a muddy darkness. Derek winced and grabbed a handful of napkins from the coffee stand, muttering a gruff apaology.

Stiles dabbed meekly at the damp fabric, “lucky I take it extra milky, huh?” he asked with a small hiss of pain.

“What were you having?”

Stiles plucked up the cup and tossed it into the trash can, “Latte.” 

Derek nodded to the man, who was already preparing Stiles’ order, “and a Mocha, thanks.” Derek dug out his wallet. Stiles ‘huh-ed’ as their drinks were handed over.

“Mocha? Really?”

“Why are you so surprised?”

“I just guessed you’d be the sort who orders an extra extra extra extra concentrated espresso with a half-pump of Manliness.”

“What.”

It wasn’t even a question. Derek just couldn’t fathom a reply.

“Yeah, like,” Stiles strode up the visitors pathway – ignoring the tiny gate into the shortcut – and waved for Derek to catch up. “I don’t know. You don’t seem like the Mocha type.”

“There’s a type? Did I have to register with a society before I started drinking them?”

Stiles chuckled, “don’t be an ass.”

“I’m serious. I’ve been drinking mochas for years and I’ve never paid a membership fee.”

With a small shake of his head, Stiles flipped Derek off, “you’re in a very good mood.” He added, finger still proudly showing at Derek.

“Just making a point.”

The brisk air chilled his fingers. Derek coiled them around his cup whilst Stiles nuzzled down into his scarf and shivered.

“Can’t believe it’s nearly Christmas.”

“It’s only the first of the month.”

“I opened my calendar, therefore it’s nearly Christmas.”

“Interesting philosophy.”

Stiles stuck his nose up primly at the obvious sarcasm, “duh, practically the next Descartes." he slurped his coffee noisily, a thin drip trailing down his chin. He swiped at it, "I love the run-up to Christmas. There used to be these little numbered bags hanging all around my house, some hidden, some not – you know, like an advent scavenger hunt, with candies and stuff hidden inside. And Because my parents liked to see me suffer, when I was 10, they hung number 25 right above my bed, and I wasn’t allowed to eat it until Christmas day. It tortured me every morning and every night.”

Derek couldn’t quite process this information. Was it personal? It just seemed like a sweet anecdote, but there was a wistful tone to Stiles’ voice that made Derek think those times were long gone. Gone with his mother, maybe.

“Didn’t do stuff like that.”

They reached the first exhibit in silence, Stiles waved to the Baboons cheerily, “morning guys!” He nudged Derek with his elbow. “Go on. Say hello.”

“Are you kidding me?”

“You decided to take the scenic route with me. Therefore you must participate in all scenic route related activities which includes greeting the animals, starting with monkeys.”

“I’ve already said good morning to the monkey,” Derek tried to ignore the fact it sounded like a filthy innuendo and nudged to Stiles to indicate that he was indeed, the aforementioned monkey. Stiles pouted.

“Funny. You’re real funny.”


 

Patching up broken fence links was hardly the epitome of exciting, but it had to be done. Boyd was drafted in to help, and both men were growing increasingly weary of the cold metallic press that etched into their palms as they worked their way along a small section of the Wolf Enclosure, mud caking into their boots and wolves peering curiously from a segregated pen to watch them work.

Boyd yawned, his ‘African Mammals – Head Keeper’ emblem stretching as he pulled out a cramp in his shoulder.

“Do you remember that kid doing a Frat pledge?”

“Yeah. The one who broke into the zoo over night to steal a bone from an exhibit.”

“And he got tangled up in the Lion’s den,” Boyd smirked. “I thought he was going to have a heart attack when we found him.”

“Or piss himself. Which I’m pretty sure he did,” Derek tugged at a length of mesh. “How’s Pogo?”

It was a simple fact that every keeper had a favourite animal. For Boyd, it was a sweet tempered elephant named Pogo, who could be seem happily ambling around his exhibit, sneaking tidbits of food from overgenerous visitors.

Yet elephants aren’t really meant for a diet of Candy Floss and ice cream and Pogo’s extreme eating habits had caught up with him. Boyd frowned.

“Better. I think. That trainee vet, Scott, reckons there’s no lasting damage.”

“Good.”

Silence swept over them. That’s what Derek liked about Boyd; silences weren’t awkward and there was no forced chit-chat, it was just a steady ebb and flow of conversation and quiet, an easiness which Derek appreciated.

After a while of this familiar pitter-patter, Derek’s radio let out a sharp burst of static.

“Derek, visitor for you in my office.”

He unclipped the radio from his belt, “who?”

“Says she’s called Kate.”


 

Derek paused outside Danny’s office. It didn’t seem like reality. Knowing Kate was the other side was … sickening. And strange. He’d spent so long thinking about what he’d do if he ever saw her again, he’d never actually decided. He wanted to hurt her. A part of him wanted to kill her. Sometimes he just wanted to know why she did it.

He straightened his back and entered.

“Derek!”

She looked far older than the last time he'd seen her. Eyes lined with wrinkles, a greyness set in under her carefully applied make-up. Her voice was positively giddy with eerie childlike glee, but there was a strange rasp to it, like a smokers voice. 

Danny stood from his chair and offered a warm goodbye to Kate – they must’ve got friendly – and excused himself. Just before he left, Danny paused short of the door, tugged at Derek’s shirtsleeve and pulled in close.

“If this an ex-girlfriend or something and you plan to have make-up sex in my office, I will make your life a living hell from this day onwards. Okay? Okay.”

Derek didn’t move his gaze from Kate as Danny left, willing the surge of adrenaline that had suddenly shot through him to go away. It wasn’t fear he felt, no, he wasn’t afraid of Kate.

But looking at her, smirk still proudly in place, he felt like the sixteen year old who would’ve given her the moon if she’d only asked.

And he hated it.

“Sorry to drop by so unexpectedly. Don’t know if you’d heard, but my family – though very understanding behind closed doors, are less keen to make their allegiance to a convicted criminal known publically,” she tapped her nails on the desk thoughtfully. “It’s odd. I remember them being furious when you tried to testify against me. Then again, they tried to keep the case under wraps and away from the press.” 

“Get out.”

Kate appeared supremely unconcerned. In fact, at the venomous glare from Derek, she merely hummed and began rifling through Danny’s desk draw.

“What sort of crap does this man keep in here? – aha!” She withdrew a KitKat with a grin. “I’m starved. Want half?”

“Get out,” He snarled again.

“I’ll take that as a no,” she waved the finger of chocolate as if dictating an orchestra, eyes closed blissfully. “So what’s new with you? Still blaming me for your parents - ” She sighed, clutching a hand to her chest “Accident?”

Something snapped.

Derek lunged at her, shoving her into the filing cabinet with all his might. It was with a grim feeling of satisfaction he heard the loud clang on body colliding with metal and her small shriek of shock. She gasped out a laugh.

“Oh, up against the wall. This does bring back happy memories.”

“What are you doing here?”

Wrenching herself from his grip and settling down on the desk, Kate dropped her voice to little more than a poisonous, saccharine coo.

“To see you, of course.”

“Why?”

She fluttered her eyelashes “I missed you.”

He hated it. Hated her. Hated how powerless he felt. How she seemed to crawl under his skin. He wasn’t out of his depth. He was drowning and she was holding his head under the water.

“Fuck off.”

She rolled her eyes, “eloquent.”

“I mean it.”

“Or what? You’ll scream?” Kate crossed her legs, raking her gaze up and down Derek. “I have to say, time has treated you so very well - I mean, you were always a gorgeous specimen, but mmm, I could lick you," she poked her tongue out in a pink point. “Sometimes I wish we'd seperated on better terms but, I had to do it ... bad people deserve what’s coming to them, after all.”

Bad people? His parents weren't bad people, they were the kind of people who invited lost hikers in for dinner, who adopted orphaned cubs, who'd sit up late into the night whenever he had a nightmare. They didn't deserve the twisted result of Kate's maniacal, deluded thoughts. 

“My Parents - ”

“ – wanted to protect their kid',” Kate cut in with a dismissive wave of her hand. “You don't know the full story, do you? If you did, I'm pretty sure you wouldn't be so sour - or maybe you would. But you'd understand why they deserved it." 

Derek couldn't hear it any longer. He'd spent so longer trying to scour every thought of her from his mind and just being there was like dousing a wound in stinging alcohol. He wrenched the door oper, breathing hard through his nose. 

"Get out," he hissed for the final time. Kate flicked her hair and slinked across the room, "just remember what I've said - and you've been very bad, haven't you?" She purred. As she passed him, her hand trailed across his chest and her perfume coiled up in a spicy waft which stung his eyes and caught in his throat. Blowing a kiss, Kate finally left.

Derek stayed in the office, almost panting through the waves of revulsion and fury that shuddered through his entire being. He refused to let her in again. Refused to let her toy with him. They didn't deserve it. They didn't.


With a staff member who resided in a slightly illegal manner at the Zoo, there was a definite surplus of Random Crap lying about. Derek had unearthed socks, pages of half finished essays, a watch, books, a few crusty tissues (the history of which he wanted to know nothing about) and an iPod dock in his office.

The latter was sent flying to the floor when Derek erupted into his office and swept his arm across the desk. Everything came crashing down as he tore his way through, ripping notices from walls, hurling books and files, rage exuding from him as he desperately tried to release the fury boiling under his skin. It came to a screaming crescendo as he seized the the noticeboard and sent it streaming across the room, landing with a clatter.

He needed to unwind. He had a lot on his mind, a lot of paperwork and he was going to take advantage of his trainees habit of cluttering up his space.

So he took a steady breath, slipped his iPod into the dock and began to tidy. Methodical, precise. Some stuff had been destroyed beyond repair and he ended up chucking a load of crumpled files in the trash, but it was strangely soothing to throw so much out and cram it down into the trash can, pressing  everything into firm melded lump. Derek cleaned and scrubbed down the room until it was tidier than ever and then finally reclined into his desk chair. There was still paperwork to finish, after all.


 

Stiles wandered in as Derek was filling out one of the many new safety assessment forms. He paused mid-way through the room, clicking his fingers slightly out of time to the music.

“Is this … Jazz?”

“I like jazz.”

Clicking in an almost sarcastic manner (can clicking be sarcastic? If anyone could manage a feat, it would be Stiles) Stiles scrolled through Derek's music collection, adding comments and thinly veiled insults about his taste.

“Oh, Frank Sinatra!”

“I like Frank Sinatra.”

"Dead Man's Bones, cool."

"I like Dead Man's Bones."

“Young The Giant? Huh.”

“I like - ”

Stiles shot him a mildly exasperated look, “if I see it on your iPod, I’m gonna assume you like it, ‘kay buddy?” He turned back to his nosing around, every so often switching the song, smirking at the aggravated noises Derek would make whenever the music changed.

“Just pick one,” Derek groused. 

"Fine, Nina Simone it is."

The first few chords of Sinnerman bubbled through as Derek flicked to the newest form. He frowned a blank box at the the top of it, “is Stiles your real first name?”

Stiles tensed, “why do you want to know?”

“I need it for this form.”

Stiles ducked his head, turning back to the docking station, “Check the system.” He muttered.

“Can’t you just tell me?”

There was a pause so painfully awkward that Derek began to wonder how hideously embarrasing the name could be. Could it be a feminine name? Yet Stiles wasn't really the type to care about something like that - in fact, Derek had been faced with a fifteen minute lecture on gender roles and stereotypes when he'd told Stiles to 'stop being a little girl'. Derek was so caught up in his musings that he nearly missed Stiles' defeated sigh and his mutter of 'Rupert'.

"Rupert?" Derek repeated.

“Yeah, named after my Grandfather.”

“Oh,” Derek scrawled it on the paper, “me too.”

Stiles held up his hand. Derek stared at it blankly.

“Namesake high five?”

“No.”

Stiles clenched his hand and brought it to his chest, “I thought we were bonding.”

“ … we’re talking.”

“And let’s face it, for you, this is bonding. This is practically a social breakthrough.”

“Despite your beliefs, I’m not a hermit,” Derek said, a little defensively. “I just can’t be bothered to deal with idiots.”

Stiles laughed, “That’s another one for - ”

“If you say ‘The Poetry Book’ I will hurt you.”

Miming a zipped mouth, Stiles plucked the iPod up pocketed it. Derek looked up at the sudden absence of music. 

“What’re you doing?”

Stiles waggled it cheerfully, “just thought of a few songs you’d like. I’ll give it back to you tomorrow morning.”

"But - "

Stiles sauntered out of the room, tunelessly whistling Sinnerman. Ignoring the total destruction of a beloved classic song, Derek went back to his paperwork, a weary smile tugging at him and strange feeling of fondess welling up inside.

Stiles was alright, really.


Every month would be a Head of Section meeting.

Every month, Derek seriously reconsidered his position at the zoo.

An hour into the meeting, Derek was vainly trying to keep awake whilst the senior members of the Zoo were briefed on new Health and Safety regulations by a man who didn’t appear friendly with showering or soap.  

Erica and Boyd were discretely playing Hangman as Michelle, the Petting Zoo manager, dozed in her chair. Two other staff members were subtly texting whilst the rest were staring at the suited Health and Safety man, eyes glazed over with disinterest. Every so often, Health-And-Safety would stare deeply at someone, as if directing his speech on the importance of wet floor signs entirely onto them. The fact that someone could look that intense when talking about the friction of a puddle was pretty beyond Derek.

“Ha! I win!”

“There’s an O there, not an A. I win.”

“Somebody’s a sore loser.”

“No, I’m just a good speller!”

The hissing match that had sparked up between Boyd and Erica provided momentary entertainment for Derek and any other staff member who’d been jolted from their stupor. He turned back to the man, who was passing handouts entitled ‘Fire Protocol’.

The itch under his skin returned. Derek pocketed the handout.


When Derek returned to his desk, his inbox was going crazy, pinging wildly to itself. Derek scanned through the emails, wondering what sort of war had started up that inspired such a frenetic burst of activity.

--

To: [Group] J.Whittemore@Beaconzoo.com; A.Argent@Beaconzoo.com; S.Mccall@Beaconzoo.com; D.Hale@Beaconzoo.com; R.Stilinski@Beaconzoo.com; E.Reyes@Beaconzoo.com; V.Boyd@Beaconzoo.com; I.Lahey@Beaconzoo.com
From: L.Martin@Beaconzoo.com
Subject: Surprise Beach Party

As some of you may know, it’s Danny’s birthday soon, so Jackson and I are throwing him a surprise party at the Whittemore beach house on Monday.

Cocktails and refreshments will be served, arrive 6pm sharp.

RSVP xx

Lydia Martin,
Assistant, Reptile House

--

To: [Group]
From: R.Stilinski@Beaconzoo.com
Subject: RE: Surprise Beach Party

a beach party? in December?
I’ll come as long as you don’t make us swim in freezing water. I value my testicles!!

Stiles Stilinski, 
Menial trainee and Poop Scooper, Wolf Enclosure

--

To: [Group]
From: L.Martin@Beaconzoo.com
Subject: RE: RE: Surprise Beach Party

1) Sharing does not always equal caring

2) If you value your testicles so much, then you’ll be coming to the party.

Lydia Martin,
Assistant, Reptile House

--

To: [Group]
From: R.Stilinski@Beaconzoo.com
Subject: RE: RE: RE: Surprise Beach Party

WHY IS EVERYONE AT THIS ZOO SO TERRIFYINGLY PASSIVE AGGRESSIVE

Stiles Stilinski, 
Menial trainee and Poop Scooper, Wolf Enclosure

--

To: [Group]
From: V.Boyd@Beaconzoo.com 
Subject: RE: RE: RE: RE: Surprise Beach Party

It’s only the good looking ones.

Vernon Boyd,
Head Keeper, African Mammals

--

To: [Group]
From: R.Stilinski@Beaconzoo.com 
Subject: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: Surprise Beach Party

nu-uh, Jackson is the most passive-aggressive of them all, yet he kinda reminds me of those two toed sloths

Stiles Stilinski, 
Menial trainee and Poop Scooper, Wolf Enclosure

--

To: [Group]
From: J.Whittemore@Beaconzoo.com 
Subject: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: Surprise Beach Party

Bite me

Jackson Whittemore,
Assistant, Reptile House

--

To: [Group]
From: R.Stilinski@Beaconzoo.com 
Subject: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: Surprise Beach Party

:D

Stiles Stilinski, 
Menial trainee and Poop Scooper, Wolf Enclosure

--

To: [Group]
From: J.Whittemore@Beaconzoo.com 
Subject: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: Surprise Beach Party

FUCK YOU

Jackson Whittemore,
~*~ SlOtHiNg Is FuN ~*~

--

Well, Derek thought with a wry smile, at least Stiles has changed his target.


 Rain drizzled down the next morning, beating the ground into a dark grey and filling the zoo with the sultry smell of a million different, dampened terrains. Derek passed through the entrance and spared a glance at the coffee vendor setting up for the day. He thought of Stiles.

Stiles still infuriated him on occasion, but there was that strange side of him, that Derek saw more of every day, or maybe he just hadn’t seen it under the layer of pure annoying, which kind of made him smile at thought of the guy. Somewhere along the line, Derek had deemed it appropriate for Stiles to temporarily borrow his stuff and mess with it.

And somewhere along the line, Derek had begun to enjoy Stiles’ company.

So he stopped by the coffee stand, ordered a Mocha and a Latte, and waited.

Chapter Text

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 – ‘?”

“Why?”

Dereeeek!”

“Stiles.”

“Dereeeeeeek.”

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?”

 “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 - ?”

“Carl, yeah.”

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.

Right?

 “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.

“Hey.”

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.

“About work.”

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.” 

Chapter Text

Christmas crept up with worrying stealth, and it wasn’t until Scott did a round robin email reminding everyone to drop their Secret Santa gifts under the Staff Room tree did Derek realise he hadn’t even spared a second thought for the crumpled scrap of paper with ‘Isaac’ written on.

Derek hated gift giving. Always has. Even with Kate, he’d go for the default presents of jewellery and flowers (he was a guy, unimaginative and had far too much disposable income for a person his age, could you blame him?) and Isaac – well, Derek could definitely think of something Isaac needed, but a new place to live probably overshot the $25 spending limit.

But then a small mercy came in the form of Danny.

“Derek. You know Stiles well by now, don’t you?”

Derek secured a clip onto the fence panel he was fixing, rain slicked metal pressing into his palm, “pretty well.”

“What do you think he wants for Christmas?”

Derek shrugged. Though he could think of something, it both overstepped the price limit by miles and was weirdly personal for a Secret Santa gift. Danny whined.

“They need to be handed in on Friday. I tried asking Scott since they’re best friends, but he just gave me this really pained look and told me that Stiles doesn’t even know what Stiles wants.”

Again, Derek shrugged. Danny leant on the fence, apparently unaware he was undoing all the painstaking work Derek had completed.

“What have you got for your Secret Santa?”

Derek clamped a mesh tie between his teeth, “nothing yet.” He said, voice muffled.

Who have you got?”

“Isaac.”

Danny perked up, “seriously? Wanna swap?”

Derek hesitated, and made a noise to the affirmative, tie still held in his mouth.

“So I’m buying for Isaac, you’re buying for Stiles?”

Another noise to the affirmative. Danny grinned widely, dimples pressing his cheeks.

“Awesome. Thanks.”

 


There was a reliable steadiness to stock taking in the storage room. Something soothing about marking down items that needed replacing, or were in perfect working order or weren’t even there at all. It always took him a few hours and he was perfectly happy to take a small pile of snacks and spend half a day methodically picking his way through the room.

“Did you always want to work at a Zoo?”

Stiles liked to play a game. It entailed sneaking up on Derek and springing random questions on him.

“Why do you want to know that?” Derek asked, frowning down at his checklist.  

“Why do you always ask why I want to know something when I ask you something I want to know?”

Stiles liked to play another game, the rules of which weren’t very clear, but Derek was pretty sure the only aim was to confuse the hell out of him. Pausing to repeat the sentence to himself, Derek turned back to the cupboard, “because you ask a lot of questions.”

“Dude, I’m not a toddler.”

“Had me fooled.”

Stiles poked out his tongue, Derek rolled his eyes and noted down a lack of feeding bottles. “You’re not helping your case.”

“What case?”

Another question, “the ‘I am not a toddler’ case.”

“And you’re avoiding the question,” Stiles interjected impatiently.

“There is no avoiding questions when you’re around, Stiles, believe me.”

Stiles ignored this, “did you always want to work in a zoo?” He repeated.

Derek didn’t look away from the cupboard, methodically picking his way through the contents, noting them down with way too much attention. Had he? He knew his future would involve the wolves, but he’d always pictured that his parents would just always have them around, that the pack would always live on their land and that he would visit from time to time.

“No,” Derek said finally, honestly.

“What did you want to be?”

Derek shrugged, “not a zoo keeper.”

“Huh,” Stiles pinched his lip between his teeth. “I kinda wanted to be a dolphin tamer – what, hey, don’t laugh!”

Schooling his features into something more stoic Derek splayed his hands innocently, “I’m not laughing.” He said, erasing all images of Stiles in a wetsuit, which wasn’t so much sexy as it was weird.

Plucking the list from Derek’s hand, Stiles muttered under his breath, “suppose that would be kind of a miracle – oh my god, how much stock taking do you have to do?”

“We have a lot of stuff to keep track of.”

Stiles stole a Red Vine, “need a hand?” he asked, sucking on it in an insanely obscene manner. If Derek wasn’t so painfully aware of Stiles’ oral fixation, he’d have thought the sight of Stiles’ pointed tongue laving up and down the candy was intentional. Derek cleared his throat.

“Have you finished your other duties?”

“You sound like a fussy parent,” Stiles put on a tinny, feminine voice, “’have you finished your chores? Done the dishes? Walked the wolfies?”

“Keep talking back and I’ll send you to your room,” Derek muttered.

“Without any supper? Or will you just spank me?”

Stiles seemed to hear himself as the word came out, the teasing tone doing nothing to downplay the sexual nature of the question. When Derek smirked at the flush that followed, Stiles hissed and hurled a Red Vine at his head.

 


“Pass me one of though pound bags of formula. I need to see if these scales are correct.”

Derek tossed the bag to Stiles, who caught it with surprisingly deftness.

“Thanks.”

They fell quiet. Well, Derek was quiet. Stiles babbled on about whatever flitted into his mind, giving Derek a blow-by-blow count of the day so far, every so often asking questions. Derek half-listened, but since Stiles wasn’t reeling off a concise Christmas wishlist, there wasn’t much use in paying a lot of attention.

He had an idea – a poky, cramped store in the town displayed what Derek considered to be Stiles' wet dream of a present. Not that he thinks of Stiles having wet dreams, because that would be deeply perverted considering the age difference and the fact that Derek is Stiles' boss and - yeah. He officially hates Christmas. 

The next day, he saw the only missing present under the tree was Stiles'. Derek scowled at the tinsel and baubles like they had personally offended him.

 


Derek slid Stiles’ gift under the tree on the Thursday. He felt ridiculous. A year ago, Christmas festivities at the zoo extended to getting drunk with Erica and Boyd after work and maybe picking through a few of Erica's homemade Christmas cookies at lunch. Now Derek was participating in whimsical crap like Secret Santa, trawling stores for hours to find ‘the perfect gift’. He’d foolishly mentioned he was looking for a gift to a sales girl at a department store, and she’d smiled widely and said ‘for someone special?’. Derek interpreted that as a deeply meaningful question and mumbled an ‘I guess he is’ and thus, he’d been introduced into a world of cashmere sweaters and bottles upon bottles of aftershave.

He’d resolutely said no to every single suggestion and high-tailed it out of the perfumed department store and into the tiny little shop he’d spotted an ideal present in months ago. It surpassed the price limit, but Derek couldn’t summon the enthusiasm to give a crap.

On Friday, Derek managed to avoid the awkward present opening ceremony Scott had organised in favour of assisting Deaton in some wolf dentistry. Well, assisting is probably too generous – loitering around protectively whilst Deaton figured out why Lupa was so hesitant to eat was probably more apt.

As he trekked to his car, heading home for the day, a shout echoed up from behind him.

“Hey, man, wait - I’ve been looking for you!”

Derek reluctantly waited by the exit, nodding briefly at the night keepers as they headed in for work. Stiles finally came panting up to him, clutching his wrapped Secret Santa gift and a shiny gift bag.

“This is for you,” Stiles lifted the bag and adjusted the box clumsily. “From your Secret Santa.”

Derek totally forgot he'd be getting a gift too. He briefly checked the tag and recognised Erica’s looped writing shining in crimson ink. You are literally the fucking hardest person in the world to buy for, so I got you the only thing I know you definitely like. Merry Christmas xx

“I had to miss the little present opening thing at lunch. Do you wanna open them now?” Stiles waggled the box in his hands.

“I guess.”

"We'll take turns," Stiles said happily, leaning on one of the turnstiles at the entrance. "You go first."

Derek slit the sellotape with a fingernail, revealing a bag packed to the brim with hazelnut cookies. Stiles 'huh-ed'.

"Fan of baked goods? You're full of surprises. I kinda expected you to be a raw meat and blood kinda guy."

Derek shrugged, taking a bite of one and offering the bag to Stiles, "Erica's a good cook." 

Stiles didn't take one, too busy watching him with a small, half-frown. Yet when he noticed Derek looking back at him, he burst into a hasty grin. “My turn!” He tore open the paper in a frenzy, whipping off the lid and unearthing the contents in less time than it took for Derek to blink.

“Oh My God! Batman Converse?! That's like the unholy, perfect love child of beauty and  - wait, do you know who had me? Was it Scott? I don't recognise the writing."

The man in the shop had gift wrapped it and written the tag. Derek praised small miracles.

"Don't know," he slipped past the turnstile and into the staff car park. "Night Stiles." 

He headed to his car quickly, thinking back to the time he met Stiles for the first time – the very first time. Batman tshirt. Mismatched converse. He suddenly realised where he’d got the idea from.

Unfortunately, Stiles seemed to be having the same epiphany. He slowly looked up, eyes widening.

"No. Way."

Derek grit his teeth, trying to slink off. Since when did he park so far away? Stiles yelped and scurried up next to him.

"They’re even my size! How’d you know?”

“Your uniform order includes shoe size.”

This apparently fell on deaf ears as Stiles was too busy trying to wrench off his tightly laced work boots to even notice Derek still slowly edging away. Hopping on one foot, wiggling the other into the shoe, Stiles squealed happily.

“You are officially the best boss ever – I totally forgive you for all that wall slamming - Oh man, I saw these like, last month and I so wanted to get them but I couldn’t justify spending that much on … “ He tailed off, looking aghast. Something twisted in Derek’s stomach.

“Derek.” Stiles choked out after a while. “These cost … these cost – I can’t! Jesus.”

He tried to shove them back, looking almost pitying, as if the gesture was too much – and fuck, it was – but Stiles was simply too nice of a guy to laugh in his face.

“I really can’t take these – Like, really - ”

“Merry Christmas Stiles,” Derek cut in, avoiding his eyes. “See you in the New Year.”

He turned, making one last try for his car.  

“Jesus, dude – wait!”

Derek found himself plummeting to the ground as Stiles hurtled at him, full speed. They both hit the ground, Derek twisting painfully, back pressing into the damp concrete and Stiles flattening on top of him.

“Ow! Damn, that kinda hurt - ”

Thinking determinedly of the rotting slops of caribou he’d found in a far flung corner of the enclosure, Derek brought all of his attention away from the heavy pressure of Stiles’ thigh against his crotch and on to the man in questions face.

Which didn’t actually help. In fact, it made things worse.

Stiles’ lips were surreally perfect.

Also, he wasn’t moving.

“Uh, Stiles?”

“Sorry,” Stiles suddenly burned red and scrambled off Derek.  “But I achieved my goal!”

Derek rubbed the sore patch at the back of his head, “which was?”

Stiles blinked, “to stop you.”

“From?”

“Totally running out on an appropriate thank you for the gift!”

Stiles helped Derek haul himself up and began a long winded spiel about being ‘totally grateful’, Derek all the while mentally scolding himself for thinking of the ‘appropriate thank you’ he’d prefer.

 


Derek didn’t do Christmas. He just … didn’t. And he was all right with that fact – Christmas wasn’t even that big of a thing before the fire. His parents would let him have wine with dinner, they’d open presents and maybe watch a Christmas special whilst picking through turkey remnants and that would be it. Hale house festivities, tied up with a simple bow.

After the fire, it felt as if all traditions, however little, had burnt with it. So Christmas becomes just another day. Usually, he worked, but management had given him the day off, and who was he to argue with a sleep in?

Derek awoke in the morning, reflected briefly on getting out of bed and then promptly rolled over and slept until the afternoon.

That’s pretty much when his day started to turn.

Tzzzzz

God he hated that buzzer. Hated it. The tinny whine filled his ears painfully, unwavering to the fact he was trying to ignore it.

Tzz tzz tzz tzzzzzzzz

Hauling himself out of bed, Derek stretched blearily as he strode across. He flung the door open in what he hoped was an intimidating and ‘get out of my life right now I am trying to sleep’ manner – and stopped, stunned.

“Merry Christmas, sweetie.”

Kate smiled and slipped past the door, unfazed by Derek’s glare.

“Nice place. Not very festive, but you never saw the point of holidays, did you? Cheerful thing.”

“Get out,” Derek snarled. Kate simpered falsely, then snorted.

“Not even going to offer me a drink?”

“Of course. Bleach or Drain Cleaner?”

Still smirking, Kate sauntered past and began rifling through the kitchen cupboards, ignoring every venomous hiss from Derek. She produced a two glasses from one and then a bottle of wine from another with a small, pleased murmur.

“Nice vintage! I see you still remember all I taught you,” She handed one brimming glass to Derek, giggling when he tried to push it back.

“Oh spoiltsport! Don’t you remember our Christmas together?”

Derek remained silent, Kate tossed her hair and settled comfortably on the couch, slipping off her shoes and jacket in an all too familiar manner. She smoothed a wrinkle from her dress with a wink.

“You broke away from that quiet celebration your family was so fond of and we went off to a hotel – in secret, of course. I had to lie to the Room Service man about your age and we spent the day drinking champagne, eating chocolates and having lots of sex. Mmm.”

Through gritted teeth, Derek managed to snarl out a vehement “Get out.”

“Don’t you remember? We were lying in bed and you were playing with my hair. It was all quiet, only the sound of rain … but then you kissed my forehead and said ‘I love you’ – and you sounded so scared and awestruck, like you were letting me in on this big secret,” she pinged the strap of her dress thoughtfully. “It was quite sweet really. I’m pretty sure I was starting to enjoy your company by then – the sex was certainly getting good.”

The door buzzed again.

“Very popular today,” Kate raised an eyebrow. “A visitor this late on Christmas? Should I be jealous?”

“You have five seconds to get out of my apartment and my life - ”

“Or what?”

The buzzer went again. Kate drained her glass and waved at the door, wandering though into the living room.

“Answer it.” She waved over her shoulder. “Rude to keep guests waiting.”

Derek shot her another venomous glare. As soon as the visitor had been taken care of, he’d haul her out by the hair if he had to. There was another impatient buzz and Derek flung the door open, ready to snarl ‘what?’ at the intruder.

 “HAPPY CHRISTMAS!”

Stiles stood, red cheeked and grinning in the porch light. He appeared to be dancing on the spot, hands clasped behind his back. Derek wondered briefly why, only to have a thing thrust in his face.

“For you! I feel kinda bad ‘cause – well, it’s not Batman Converse, but – well, I thought you would appreciate it,” Stiles wiggled the thing again. “His name is Derek jr.”

“Uh.”

Derek jr had a maniacal grin stitched on his face, fake fur bursting from every available area and was stuffed to the very brim with fluff. Yep. For Christmas, Stiles had presented Derek … with a wolf.

A stuffed wolf, to be precise. About half the size of a regular one, with a bright red bow carefully fastened around his neck. Gingerly pinching ‘Derek jr’ by the scruff, the real Derek cleared his throat.

“Thanks.”

Stiles’ face fell. He shook his head and started to tug Derek jr back, cheeks tinged with pink

“Ah crap you hate it … Please don’t hate … like, me – it was just a joke and I was trying to be  - ”

 “Stiles.”

Stiles flinched minutely.

“Yeah?” He said in a slightly defeated tone, still warily regarding Derek as if he expected a punch to the face.

“Thanks,” Derek said again, absently holding the wolf to his chest.

A few flakes of snow began to flutter down, not settling on the ground as Stiles grinned goofily, resuming his on-the-spot jig.

“Awesome!”

“Yeah.”

“Well.”

“Thanks.” Derek repeated awkwardly. “It’s - ”

“ – He!”

“Uh, he’s.”  Derek corrected. “ … Cute.”

Stiles nodded cheerfully, smiling to fullest extent. Derek had to strangest urge to crowd him against the door and feel that smile against his lips.

“Can’t stay long, left my Dad alone with the leftovers, so I have to zoom back if I want any - ”

Of course he wouldn’t stay. Not that it mattered, of course. “ – Yeah, sure. You should - ”

“ – I mean like, if you’re not busy or you – well, we always make too much - ”

Derek cocked his head, Derek jr tickling his chin. “ - Are you asking me over? - ”

Stiles was still rambling and almost certainly hadn’t heard him. “ – And my Dad wants to do something nice since you drove me back in that storm - ”

“ – you – don’t have to, but if it’s all that same, I’d - ”

“ – Because like, I guess Christmas must be kinda hard, it sucked after my mom, but I have my Dad at least and we’d - he’d … I’d actually like -”

“ – Uh, it’d be nice - ”

“ – So you know, no press - ”

“ – That’d be – yeah, I like your dad and I - ”

Their words were converging into nonsense, overlapping in a babbled ramble. Derek couldn’t quite believe Stiles wanted to spend Christmas with him. He also couldn’t quite believe that Stiles still couldn’t shut up.

 “ – Actually I think we also got this fancy beer if that’s an extra enticement - ”

Suddenly, Kate surged to Derek’s side.

“Hey, Derek’s friend! Merry Christmas!”

Stiles froze. Derek did the same.

“Are you staying for a bit? We’ve just opened some wine,” she frowned. “You are old enough to drink, right? I know Derek works with a lot of young kids – oh wait, did you get him this?” She tugged Derek jr from his cocoon in Derek’s arms, cooing at either Stiles or the toy. “Oh bless you!”

She playfully made the wolf bite at Stiles. It was terrifying how sincerely friendly she seemed. How normal. Derek didn’t notice the arm slither around his waist until she squeezed him and said “so how about it, Derek? Room for your little friend?’” She giggled and nibbled at his ear, muttering in a clearly audible undertone, “you can open your other present later.”

Stiles was silent, face reddening and gaze trapped on the arm Derek could feel burning into his side. Derek wrenched himself from Kate’s grip and Stiles shook his head and stuttered out a barely discernible reply.

“No – I – you know how it is this time of year, trying to pack it all in one day – family thing, have to get moving. Haven’t finished my present round, you know, Santa still has a few very late stops to make.”

“Stiles - ”

“I should get going. Saddle up the reindeer, etcetera, etcetera.”

“Don’t,” Kate and Derek said in unison.

"Stay for a drink with us," Kate said sweetly.

“Kate was just leaving," Derek corrected, pushing her past the threshold. Stiles dodged out of the way as Kate stumbled onto the porch.

“Seriously,” Stiles hastily backtracked, eyes darting awkwardly. “Don’t let me interrupt. I’m already the king of third wheels, don’t make me add another notch to my crown, man.” He dragged his keys from his pocket, heading for his car and Derek was hit with the sudden resemblance of his own hasty retreat not two days ago. The Jeep skittered off and Derek was left staring at Kate, who was casually leaning on the railings of the porch.

“Leave. Now.” He managed to bite out.

“But Derek,” she said, sounding almost bored. “You love me.”

Derek slammed the door in her face and leant against it, hand rubbing at his temple in an attempt to erase the headache he’s been holding back all day. From the chair, Derek Jr stared at him with a glassy eyed grin and Derek saw a packet of Christmas cookies attached to the red ribbon and despite everything it makes his lips twitch into a fond not-quite smile.

Yeah. He’s in over his head.

Chapter Text

Derek returned to work and didn’t mention the Christmas incident. What was the point? Did Stiles really care if Derek was supposedly dating Kate? (the thought of which made Derek’s skin crawl)

Kate made no reappearances, something of which Derek was truly thankful for. January passed in a blur. The Zoo reopened and visitors milled through daily, dripping ice cream and snacks as they gawped at the animals. Field trips brought noisy rabbles of kids attempting their own howls. Some of the groups tried to sneak dog treats into the enclosure until Stiles found the biggest, most obnoxious ‘do not feed the animals’ signs he could manage, and hung them at strategic points.

It was a nice gesture.

Isaac still aimlessly switched through sleeping spaces. The zoo’s box room. Erica and Boyd’s tiny, shared apartment. The nightguard, Stilinski took pity on Isaac a few times and invited him to sleep on the couch.

“It’s comfy,” Stilinski said as Isaac and Derek piled belongings into bags, “annoyed my wife enough times to realise that,” he joked, but the sudden flash of sadness in his eyes brought a palpable tension to the room. They packed the rest in silence.

Isaac had slipped through the system. Or maybe he’d purposefully evaded it. Either way, when Derek’s apartment flooded for the third time in two years, he decided it was time for a change.

“I’ve bought a place,” Derek told Isaac as they scooped through the enclosure. “It’s got two bedrooms and I don’t really want to share with some idiot I don’t know. You in?”


 

The first of February was ‘moving day’. Derek was happy to do most of the work himself, since the thought of strangers shifting his stuff about made him uncomfortable to say the least.

But Isaac had others ideas. ‘Roping-in-friends’ type ideas.

“Where do you want this?” Erica asked, hefting a box from the truck. Derek sighed and pointed wordlessly over his shoulder to the hall of his new bungalow.

So his co-workers weren’t exactly strangers, they were still nosey as hell. There was ‘tag team’ system initiated, meaning everyone could work that day and help Derek and Isaac move. Boyd and Derek covered the morning, then Isaac and Danny, then Derek, Danny and Erica and finally Isaac and Stiles.

Derek dragged a clanking box of pots and pans from the truck and carried it across the heavy slabs of the front path. Danny hauled a bulging bag of what seemed to be duvets up the front steps and disappeared off into one of the bedrooms.

“Right,” Erica dumped the last box onto a teetering stack and wiped her brow, “I’m done. Where’s the beer?”

“Beer?” Derek repeated, shifting a box across the kitchen counter.

“Isaac said if we helped, there would be beer.”

“And food!” Danny called from the bedroom.

“Do you see any beer or food?” Derek asked blankly. Erica glanced around the room. Boxes stacked high, overflowing with stuff, spilled onto the deep, cream carpet. A leather couch and matching armchair was piled with living room bric-a-brac, and various items which had tumbled from the boxes littered the floor.

“I see the potential for a Chinese take-out and a beer run,” Erica said hopefully.

“I concur,” Danny strode out the bedroom, feathers clinging to his sweater from the pillow that had burst early on in the move. Derek huffed and hurled his wallet to Erica, who caught it deftly.

“Order enough for Isaac and Stiles, too,” Derek tugged a kitchen box towards him, and attempted to make a start on the mess that was his new home. Erica gave him a brief thumbs up before disappearing outside to order the food and no doubt, call Boyd with requests for beer.

Derek returned to unpacking the boxes. Danny sidled up behind him, fiddling with an abandoned corkscrew.

“Nice place,” he said casually. Derek looked to him momentarily and then shrugged.

“Yeah, it’ll do.”

Danny hummed to himself, sounding surprisingly tuneful. After some time, he began unpacking boxes too, pausing to ask which belonged to Isaac and what belonged to Derek.

“So,” Danny said, absently sticking magnets onto the fridge, “you’re letting Isaac live with you for like, half what he really should be paying for … what reason exactly?”

Derek tensed, his tidying of kitchen utensils growing stilted. He was charging Isaac a low rate, but that was kind of his business. He would’ve let him live there for free, but Isaac had a proud streak – he’d rather be technically homeless than crash at Derek’s for free. Bizarre.

“How do you know what I charge?”

Danny tutted, “my parents are realtors and I know how much trainee keepers at the zoo earn. There’s no way Isaac could cover the sort of rent you should be charging on a place like this.”

“Well,” Derek shrugged. “I have money. Might as well spend it on something worthwhile.”

Danny said nothing, so Derek carried on stocking the kitchen cupboards. Everything was just fitted, and the odd too-new smell of everything made Derek feel strangely hostile. The kitchen led onto the cream walled, plush carpeted living room, and two doors led onto the bedrooms, each with wide bay windows in them, chrome and granite styled ensuites attached to them both.

It was a nice place, it just didn’t feel like home. The again, nowhere had for a long, long time.

“Thanks,” Danny suddenly said, a soft edge tinting his tone, “Isaac needs some stability in his life.”

That made two of them.


Since the zoo had reopened, Derek felt the familiar increase in workload. Most of the time, he was rushed off his feet, rarely having enough time for his one-on-one sessions with Isaac or Stiles.

“Enclosure needs picking,” Derek said, passing shovels to Isaac and Stiles. Stiles groaned.

“Why do you always make us clean up the crap?!”

“Because I’m the boss,” Derek said with just a hint of smugness. Stiles groused and even Isaac seemed put out, but both trainees, nevertheless grabbed their shovels and trotted out into the enclosure. Derek waved to them with mock cheerfulness, and went to fix the rickety step leading up to his office. From his elevated position, he could see clear through the enclosure – the wolves prowling and pouncing on each other and Stiles and Isaac, squabbling and giggling as they tried to trip each other up.

Boyd came to find him after a few minutes. He sat at the top of the steps, toying with any tools Derek wasn’t using, almost as if he was angling for something. Usually Boyd was pretty straightforward, said things that needed to be said – Derek appreciated it.

But Boyd was quiet and almost hesitant. Eventually, after Derek had sent him a few prompting glares, Boyd spoke.

“So, uh,” he started, “my cousin is a TA at the elementary school and I kinda promised I’d get him a guided tour of the zoo,” Boyd briefly looked at Derek and smiled. “I also promised that I’d get him a ‘behind the scenes’ look at one of the enclosures.”

Derek snipped at a stray bit of wire, “what about your African mammals? There’s got to be one enclosure in there you can let kids drool over.”

“Lions plus little kids? Yeah. Not a great idea.”

“So little kids and wolves are the way to go?”

Boyd sighed, “come on, man. We’ve already got those art students doing the life study on the gazelles and zebras, and the elephants are a no-go. Just … half an hour. Let them watch you chuck some meat to them, howl for a little bit. That’s it. That’s all I’m asking.”

A breeze rippled through the long grass of the exhibit and Fenton rolled through the shivering grass, tongue lolling happily. Seeing such a powerful creature in such a playful position made Derek smile. He loved his job, sometimes.

“I guess,” Derek said, letting his gaze sweep to his trainees.


“Stiles, a word?”

Stiles jotted something in the wolves food planner and looked up, “yeah, boss?”

Stiles had taken to referring to Derek as ‘boss’ ever since … well, ever since Derek had informed him he ‘was the boss’. It was infuriating and annoying and a perfect example of how Stiles could find any way possible to make Derek grit his jaw in frustration.

“Do you want to take a group of kids for a tour of the enclosure? Usual rules, don’t let them near the wolves - ”

“I know what to do!” Stiles said, sounding stung. “But why don’t you get Isaac to do it?”

“Isaac’s not confident enough. Said he doesn’t think he can handle a group of kids.”

“Right, “ Stiles nodded slowly. “I guess. As long as their teacher isn’t a total dick.”

“He’s Boyd’s cousin, I think he’ll be fine.”


It took a tour of the enclosure and a day to establish that Perry Boyd was in fact, not fine.

“ – so this kid, Leo, just hurled this tub of red paint at me and I’m covered. Completely covered. I looked like an extra in a Quentin Tarantino epic and guess what? His parents had to choose that exact moment to turn up. They see me covered in paint, their kid screeching in the corner and I’m just - ” Perry covered his eyes, giggling meekly and Stiles was practically crying with laughter at the story.

Okay, so Perry was fine. And that was the problem.

Perry was funny. He was polite. He was incredibly good looking – almost identical to Boyd, only with a slimmer frame. He cared about deeply about the kids.

And he was very clearly, totally into Stiles.

“Oh man,” Stiles wiped his eyes with the sleeve of his fleece. The kids were having lunch at the picnic area, so Perry had drifted over to sit with – flirt with – Stiles. If Derek hadn’t been grabbing a drink from the vendor, he never would’ve stumbled across the cosy little tableau of Perry and Stiles tucking into a pizza.

“It was awful and yet that was the exact moment I decided I want to teach. Seven is a good age,” he nodded to the group of children, “they’re all great kids. Kinda drive me nuts sometimes, but they’re awesome. Hilarious, too. I’ll tell you about the time they learnt,” Perry glanced conspicuously to some eavesdropping students, “the F-word.”

Stiles cackled and nodded, “dude, yeah, swearing children is pretty funny. One of those things you shouldn’t laugh at, but totally do.”

“I know, right?! Anyway, so it started with this girl Penelope and her older brother - ”

Derek tensed his shoulders and retreated back to the enclosure, but not before catching the delighted sounds of Stiles’ laughter.


The next few days were strange. The bungalow was fully ‘moved into’ and everything was unpacked, yet it still didn’t feel like home. Isaac was happy enough, and yet Derek spent as little time as possible in their house. The smell of paint lingered still, and everything looked bare. Most of his day was spent either at the zoo, out running, or at the gym.

It was at the gym Derek saw Perry again, and it was at the gym that he overheard Perry on the phone, making plans for dinner with someone. It didn’t take a genius to work out who.


 

Weeks passed. Derek hated not having any reason to dislike Perry. He hated that Perry was sweet, and often surprised Stiles with boxes of curly fries tied up with a bow. He hated that Stiles spent lunch breaks texting and giggling. He hated that Perry was so unreasonably nice.

Derek hated that he had no reason to dislike Perry, other than pure, unrelenting jealously.


The wolves piled around each other, playing in the cool, late February evening. Derek tugged his jacket further around him, readying himself to head to the house. Isaac had left early (with permission) and the night keepers were yet to arrive.

Things were pretty normal.

Derek locked the first gate of the enclosure. Then the second. He lifted his hand in greeting to Stilinski, who was evidently on duty that night. Stilinski didn’t raise his hand back. In fact, he didn’t move. He simply slumped against the viewing fence of the enclosure, his limp silhouette ignited in the fast setting sun.

“Uh, Sir?” Derek called. No answer. Derek slipped through the staff gate and up onto the visitors path, approaching Stilinski with a tentative caution. “Are you - ”

Stilinski slid downwards to the floor, all too slowly. His skin was waxy pale, and his breathing was deep and laboured. Immediately, every complaint Stiles had made about his father’s heart issues and eating habits came hurtling back to Derek.

Oh God. 

Derek raced over, skittering to Stilinski’s side with a stumble.

“Sir?” he asked, wincing at the hesitance in his tone. God, what was his first name? Has Stiles ever mentioned it?

“Sir? Mr Stilinski?”

Stilinski groaned. “Can’t … breathe.”

“Right, just keep looking at me, I’ll get help - ”

Fuck. He’d left his cell in the office. Still keeping up his ramble of ‘Sir? Stay awake, come on look at me’, Derek scrambled for his radio.

“I need an ambulance to the wolf enclosure entrance now.”

Danny replied immediately. “On it. What’s happened?”

“What’s happened, Derek?”

“Derek? You okay?”

“What’s going on?”

A chorus had sprung up from anyone on the same frequency.

“Ambulance. Now.”

“Derek, seriously, what’s happened? Are you okay? Derek! Are. You. Okay?”

Stiles' voice came through the strongest. Derek clenched his jaw, trying to decide if this was the best time to spring the news -

“Stiles, get here now,” Derek grunted, trying to rouse Stilinski. He couldn’t afford to panic Stiles. Didn’t want to.

“I’ll be right there,” Stiles’ breathing was ragged, probably because he was racing to the scene. “You’re gonna be okay, man.”

It occurred to Derek that Stiles might think he was that one that required an ambulance, a thought that would’ve left him oddly touched had he not be so ultimately focussed on Stilinski.

Derek, are you – oh my god, Dad?”

The cry – so wretched and panicked – tore through Derek. Stiles came speeding to them, hitting the ground with painful force, and crawled to his father.

“Dad, fuck, come on. Dad? Dad?”

Stilinski stirred, and his eyes opened. Through too bright eyes, he stared at his son, “Stiles?” He slurred, twitching woozily on the ground.

“Yeah, it’s me – ambulance is on its way, ‘kay?” Stiles briefly looked to Derek for confirmation, “just keep looking at me - ”

“m’fine Stiles, m’fine,” Stilinski shakily pulled himself up. “Let me - ”

“Don’t you dare. Ambulance is on its way and you will go to hospital or so help me God I will ban the Burrito vender from ever serving you again. Ever.”

Though his skin was still pale and sweated sheened, Stilinski laughed raspily.

“You’re ridiculous, kiddo.”

Stiles laughed too, and tear slithered from his cheek and onto the floor, “I’m not kidding.”

Derek felt at an end. He wanted to help – how could he help? This wasn't his forte. This wasn't something he had a hand on, not something he had any semblance of control over. Stiles gasped shakily, inhaling air with desperate force.

“C’mon Dad, just keeping looking at me. Y’know, this awesome face you helped create - ”

Stilinski laughed again.

“ – yup, great genetics right here. So just keep – just keep looking at me, okay?”

Stiles was visibly shaking, but he grit his teeth and remained forcefully calm, chanting a mantra of 'Keep looking at me, Dad, keep talking'. Until a wail of a siren howled through the night. Derek wondered, for a mad second, what the wolves must think of the commotion. All his thoughts turned back to Stiles and Stilinski as a small, desperate sob shuddered through the mingle of noise.

“Dad, please.”

The ambulance was coming closer, an obtrusive anomaly on the smooth visitors path. Stiles was nearly pried away from his father as the paramedics pushed through, asking questions Derek didn’t know how to answer.


The hospital was eerily calm. Warm, florescent lighting glowed on stark white flooring as Derek swept through the corridors, the scent of disinfectant stinging his nose. Stiles had gone with his father in the ambulance and Derek, drawn by the trembling, teary form of Stiles, had followed in his car. He approached the nurses’ station and placed both hands on the desk, trying to alert the tired looking nurse of his presence.

“I’m looking for Mr Stilinski? He was brought in a while ago, suspected heart attack.”

The nurse looked up and frowned. Her gaze flickered to Derek’s polo shirt, lingering on the ‘Wolf Enclosure’ emblem.

“You sure it’s Tom you’re looking for?”

Derek tried for a smile, but could only manage something of an awkward grimace, “well, really, his son,” he admitted, “Stiles. Kinda skinny - ”

“I know who Stiles is,” the nurse looked at him for a long, shrewd minute and eventually lifted the partition of the nurses’ station and steered Derek to a small waiting room. She muttered something to a passing nurse and clicked open the door. “As long as you don’t get in the way, feel free to stay in here for as long as you need.”

It felt like intruding on the world’s loneliest vigil. Stiles was sat on a rickety chair, head in hands and an abandoned coffee next to him, the contents untouched and cold.

“I don’t need anything, Mrs McCall,” Stiles said, without looking up. Derek’s stomach swooped with a fierce, hot protectiveness. Stiles looked vulnerable. Delicate. Nurse McCall sighed under her breath.

“Do you want me to call Scott? He’d want to be here for you.”

Stiles looked up, and his eyes paused on Derek, wide and almost – fond? His gaze flicked to Nurse McCall.

“Don’t,” Stiles said evenly and after some thought. “It’s his big six-month-anniversary date with Allison, right? He’s been briefing me with the plans for the past week, asking if I think she’ll enjoy herself.”

Nurse McCall grinned. Derek realised she must be Scott’s mother, “Ice skating, hot chocolate - ”

“ – and dinner at Amore, yup,” Stiles smiled, and his grey ringed eyes briefly glinted with something other than exhaustion. “They’re smitten, aren’t they?”

“Completely. I’m starting to wonder if I’m about to get a daughter-in-law.”

Derek shifted awkwardly in the corner and Stiles’ gaze slowly tracked to him. He stared for a little while, and said a firm, faintly amused sounding.

“Sit down, you idiot.”

Derek settled himself into a chair, next to Stiles. Melissa watched them, one eyebrow raised delicately. She glanced at her watch and sighed,

“My break’s over. You boys gonna be okay in here?”

Derek didn’t even voice any resentment about being referred to as a ‘boy’. He just nodded. Nurse McCall swept briskly out, leaving the two in reflective silence. Stiles slowly let his head drop again, staring resolutely at his lap and Derek shuffled uncomfortably.

“Any … news?” He asked.

Stiles didn’t look up. He just rubbed his face with one hand and coughed gruffly.

“They’re gonna put in a stent. See if that will do anything,” he eventually replied in a hollow voice.

“Right.”

Derek settled further into the chair. He didn’t feel unwelcome per se, but Stiles seemed so frozen and cornered off that there was a personal air of almost-grief coiling around him. Derek wished nothing more than to grab it. Dispel it.

Instead, he thought of how they first met. Their first, true meeting. As he acted out his plan, there was no lingering idea of Perry. No thought of Stiles' apparent relationship. Just - an idea. 

His hand found Stiles’ of its own accord. Derek laced their fingers together and let his thumb track delicately over the faint veins on Stiles’ hand.

“It helps,” Derek said softly into the room.

Stiles looked at their clasped hands, a weary smile spreading on his face. He squeezed back.

“I know.”

Chapter Text

The night dragged on. After a while, Nurse McCall came back in and ushered Stiles out with a low mutter of ‘he’s waking up’.

The effect was instantaneous. Stiles scrambled from his seat, dragging his hand from Derek’s without a moment’s pause. Derek didn’t even have the time to mourn or feel bitter about the sudden lack of Stiles’ hand in his own. After all, he kind of understood the urgency.

As Stiles scuttled from the room, Nurse McCall cleared her throat. Derek wondered how much she’d seen and what assumptions she must’ve made.

“You should go home, get some sleep. I think Stiles needs to be with his dad now.”

Derek rose from his chair and hesitated. Nurse McCall seemed to anticipate the question he wanted to ask.

“Tom will be fine,” she assured him, “though Stiles will probably need some time off. Tom won’t like it, but he’s going to need help for the next few days.”

“Yeah – yeah, sure.” Derek had guessed as much. He rifled in his pocket and drew out a pen. “Can you do me a favour?” he asked, swiping a tissue from the box.

Nurse McCall nodded slowly, “make it quick though, my shift ended half an hour ago.”

Derek winced guilty, “just,” he scrawled his number on the tissue, “give this to Stiles. Tell him to call me if he needs anything.”

Nurse McCall looked as if she wanted to do something like ruffle his hair fondly, but chose instead to elect for a kind smile, “of course,” she said, pocketing the tissue.

“Thanks,” Derek turned away, blinking the weary pressure of a sleepless night out of his eyes.

Derek passed Tom’s room on the way out. The door was open and Derek could see Stiles talking animatedly, his hands splayed out as he illustrated something in the air. Tom was laughing, looking tired and aged, yet happy. He caught Derek’s eye and offered a brief, thankful nod.


 

When Derek reached the house, he realised he had an hour to eat, shower, change and then get to work. He also had to arrange cover for Stiles and no doubt would get called in to discuss the entire incident.

Great. Just great.

“Where have you been?” Isaac demanded as soon as Derek shuffled through the door.

“Hospital,” he grunted, scrubbing a hand across his eyes and yawning. Isaac uncrossed his arms and gaped.

“You were in hospital? I heard a rumour that there was an ambulance called to the enclosure, but I thought – I didn’t know that -

Derek wearily held up a hand, “not for me, for Stiles.”

“Stiles is in hospital?!”

“No, no,” God, couldn’t the questions wait? “Stiles’ dad – can I explain after my shower?”

Isaac moved aside so Derek could pass, but as Derek crossed Isaac, he noticed a greyness ringing Isaac’s eyes and his curls were even more unruly than usual. From the mussing and wrinkling of Isaac’s clothes, it seemed that Derek wasn’t the only one who’d had a sleepless night.

“Everyone’s fine,” Derek assured him awkwardly. “Stiles’ dad is fine, Stiles is with him and I’m here. It’s okay.”

Isaac limply shoved Derek on the arm. “Could’ve called, you asshole. I thought someone had been mauled or something.”

“I left my phone in the office!” Derek protested, stripping out of his shirt and heading for the bathroom.

“It’s not the only phone in existence! You could’ve borrowed someone elses!” Isaac snapped irately through the door. Derek rolled his eyes and slipped into the shower, the water barely shifting the ache of tiredness that has firmly seated itself within him.

“Everyone’s fine,” Derek repeated over the din of the shower and then he muttered, only audible to himself. “I think.”


 

As Derek predicted, he was called in to discuss what happened and was made to give a laboriously shelled out and detailed account of what was literally five minutes of action. If he ever had to fill out another incident form, there was a really high chance that another ambulance would have to be called in real soon.

His office was in the same state he’d left it the night previously. Sighing, Derek headed straight for the duty roster and began pencilling in emergency changes. On the desk, his phone chirruped meekly, the battery bleating for a charge. Derek went to silence it and instead discovered a plethora of unread messages. 

From: (unknown)
Dad’s gonna be a-okay!!!

From: (unknown)
Its Stiles btw

From: (unknown)
Just wanted to thank u

From: (unknown)
my dad wanted to say thank u too.

From: (unknown)
i’ve emailed Danny and u details abt time off

From: (unknown)
dont push urself 2 hard today, u had a long night. hahaha.

From: (unknown)
no what? dont wanna make jokes yet

From: (unknown)
dad apparently does

From: (unknown)
none of them are funny

The battery warning on his phone flashed up one final time and the screen promptly went blank. Derek sighed, idly turning his phone in his hand. The same hand that Stiles had clung on to so fervently throughout the night. It was probably just his imagination, but Derek thought he could still feel the warm weight of Stiles hand in his own. 


 

Derek wasn’t an idiot. He knew Isaac hadn’t had an ideal home life before he moved – hell, he probably didn’t even have  a home life – so Derek was a little more lenient whenever he found dirty dishes festering on the counter or socks lost down the couch. Thankfully, Isaac was a pretty agreeable roommate; fairly quiet, happy to split the cleaning and cooking whenever asked.

Some incidents, however, did kind of test Derek’s admittedly thin patience.

“What are you doing?”

Isaac yelped and hastily bundled something behind his back. Derek took in the water dish and small mouse toy with a quiet groan.

“Is that a cat?”

Isaac froze, “no.” he said with deliberate care, quite ignoring the piteously mewing thing behind him.

“Why do you have a cat?”

“There is no cat!”

The not-cat meowed again. Isaac cringed at the noise and reluctantly, with the air of a condemned man, brought a scruffy, skinny grey kitten in front of him.

“She’s been hanging around the place for days,” Isaac cradled the scraggly thing lovingly, “I gave her food and she just kinda – invited herself in. I leave my bedroom window open and she comes in as she pleases.”

“It can’t stay.”

Isaac froze, “why not?”

“Because it’s a filthy alley cat!”

“She’s only a baby,” the kitten mewled again, “and she’s really well behaved.”

Derek pinched the bridge of his nose. Screw it. He missed living alone.

“What if it starts crapping everywhere?”

“She won’t! She’s house trained!”

The kitten struggled out of Isaac’s grasp and onto the kitchen counter. Derek winced as filthy paws tracked across the granite tops, leaving tiny prints in their wake.

“If she’s house trained then she’s probably got owners.”

Isaac stuttered and flushed, “well they obviously can’t care that much about her! She was this big when I found her.” Isaac squeezed his fingers together, demonstrating a miniscule size. Derek sidestepped the obvious hyperbole and folded his arms.

“Before work tomorrow, you’re taking the thing to a vet or your friend Scott or someone with experience and you’re establishing that the cat has neither owners nor diseases.”

“But Wolf can stay for now?” Isaac asked tentatively.

“Wolf?”

“The kitten,” Isaac shrugged at Derek’s answering groan. “She needed a name. What was I supposed to do; call her ‘It’?”

Derek looked from Isaac to Wolf and sighed. He’d clearly lost this battle.

“The little fleabag can stay for now,” he agreed wearily. Isaac beamed brightly and Wolf seemed to purr in delight at the news.

Derek, on the other hand, went to take a long shower and reflected on several of his life choices.


 

From: Stiles
So u got a cat now?

From: Derek
It’s not a cat. I think it’s a Hellion.


 

As it transpired, Wolf really was a filthy stray (‘abandoned kitten in need of a home!’ Isaac corrected angrily) Whatever the title, the simple fact was that Wolf hated Derek and in return, Derek hated Wolf.

Every morning, Derek was awoken by a kamikaze cat ambush. Once he’d extracted the hissing kitten from his hair, he’d head out into the kitchen and either trip over Wolf’s water dish or squish his foot into a stray piece of cat food.

“I hate cats,” Derek muttered, swiping Fancy Feast from his foot. “and I really hate you,” he directed to Wolf, who purred contently and continued shredding the couch with her claws. Derek groaned and barked out over his shoulder.

“Isaac! The Hellion is wrecking my stuff again!”

Isaac came scurrying out of his room, hair still damp from the shower, “she just needs some adequate stimulation!” he insisted, gathering the kitten into his arms and giving her a quick cuddle. “Once I get her some toys, she’ll be fine.”

Wolf melted into Isaac’s embrace. It was quickly established the only person Wolf could stand going near her was the ever doting Isaac. Even Scott, who tried to pet her after he’d finished his examination, had been treated to the claws of fury.

“Just do whatever you have to do,” Derek said firmly. Isaac nodded, letting Wolf leap from his arms and curl up onto the couch.

“She’ll be fine with some toys,” he promised, disappearing back into the bathroom. As soon as the door clicked shut, the sound of overzealous shredding tore up on Derek’s left. The near couch destruction was delayed as Derek tugged Wolf up by the scruff and deposited her onto the floor, meeting her eye-to-eye.

“How about I take you to work with me? See how much of a ‘wolf’ you really are.”

Wolf hissed and batted his nose.


 

From: Derek
Do you know anybody who wants a pet cat? Anyone at all. You don’t even have to like them. In fact, it’s probably better if you don’t.

From: Stiles
Aww, Derek. Kitty-cat still getting u down?

From: Derek
I found a dead mouse on my pillow

From: Stiles
dude, that just means it loves u. nyway, the real wolves probably bring u gross crap aswell

From: Derek
I didn’t realise the mouse was there until I laid in it.


 

Derek had been texting Stiles all week. He decided to forgo any pretence about not having feelings for him and spent his breaks shamelessly flirting to such a degree that Isaac had begun smirking in an all too knowing manner whenever the chime of Derek’s phone rang out.


 

From: Stiles
I watched Castaway. u ass!! Why did u recommend it?!?! Im crying over a goddamn volleyball!!!

From: Derek
Are you going to watch all the movies I said I liked?

From: Stiles.
Yeah. me and dad have got a lot of spare time. Dad needs to rest. Movies are a good way to rest. Why r u acting like its weird? Its not weird. just bcause u like it doesnt make it weird

From: Derek
I don’t even know what you’re trying to say, but I’d recommend getting over Wilson before you watch the Green Mile

From: Stiles
dad told me the same thing. Im kinda worried all ur movie choices r so depressing … nd that they all star Tom Hanks

From: Derek
He’s a good actor.

From: Stiles
Uh huh

From: Derek
?

From: Stiles
Tom nd Derek, sittin in a tree. K-I-S-S-I-N-G

From: Derek
You’re just a really tall five year old, aren’t you?

From: Stiles
its been said, yeah


 

Derek wasn’t excited about Stiles’ return to work. Excited was the wrong word – no, Derek was pleased about Stiles’ return. Pleased because it meant less of a workload. Pleased because peak season was fast approaching and he liked having experience people on hand. Pleased because, well, it was Stiles.

Though Stiles did spend the day pretending to pick imaginary pieces of dead rodent from Derek’s hair.

“Stop that,” Derek ducked away as Stiles again pretended to pluck a mouse liver from his hair.

“Dude, you’ve got to admit it’s kind of funny.” Stiles poked at a particularly deep scratch on Derek’s forearm. “Oh my God, is the cat also mauling you at every opportunity? You’re seriously not a cat person, are you?”

Derek grunted the affirmation and carried on hacking hunks of meat for the wolves. Stiles frowned, still jabbing at the cut.

“Have you had these cleaned out?”

Derek shook his head, chucking the meat into a bucket, “they’re fine.”

“Righty. As long as you didn’t smear mud on them.”

“What?”

“You seem like the kind of guy who does that.”

“I understand the concept of a Band-Aid, Stiles.”  

Stiles groaned in clear exasperation, tugging the first aid kit from the wall, “clearly not. Dude, this one’s still bleeding!”

Small beads of blood appeared at the thin gash on Derek’s arm. Derek went to swipe it off, but was hindered by the fact he was wearing protective, already blood soaked gloves. Stiles tutted.

“Let me do it, moron.”

Without further warning, Stiles rifled in the box and drew out an antiseptic wipe. He tore the packet open and looked to Derek warningly.

“This might sting.”

Normally, Derek would’ve scoffed or rolled his eyes. Instead he just nodded, his throat constricting tightly. It probably had something to do with the hand encircling his wrist.

Stiles swiped the cut and Derek swore he saw him procure a Band-Aid not from the kit, but from his own pocket. Stiles gently pressed the sticker onto Derek’s skin and blew lightly on it, his warm breath tickling the soft hairs. Derek raised an eyebrow in what was meant to be an inquisitive fashion and Stiles laughed nervously.

“Force of habit,” he explained with a small chuckle. Derek bit back a remark about how his mom used to kiss any and all injuries – lest he weird Stiles out with that particular gem, or worse, feel disappointed when Stiles didn’t follow suit.

“Thanks.”

Stiles grinned wryly, “well, in the grand scheme of things, I kind of owe you big time.”

Derek wearily shook his head, “you don’t owe me anything.”

“Not for what you did for my dad – well, yeah, obviously I’m crazy grateful and there’s a whole lot of gratitude there, but,” Stiles swallowed, “when you sat and waited with me.”

Derek looked up, chest suddenly rushing with adrenaline. Neither of them had mentioned that since then.

“I needed that,” Stiles continued, gently smoothing the Band-Aid onto Derek’s skin. “Thank you.”

He drew his hand away and silently began packing up the First Aid kit. Derek once again began slicing the meat.

“Any time,” he said after a while. Stiles smiled.

“I’ll hold you to that.”


 

From: Stiles
I dont think im ready for this

From: Stiles
oh my god

From: Stiles
NOOOOOOOO

From: Stiles
HES AFRAID OF THE DARK. HE’S AFRAID OF THE DARK. HE DOESNT WANT THE HOOD BCAUSE HES AFRAID OF THE DARK.

From: Stiles
goddamnit u asshole. Y did u make me watch that???

From: Derek
Green Mile?

From: Stiles
YEAH. even my dad cried and hes seen it b4. I thought I was prepared cause I googled the synopsis BUT I WASNT

From: Derek
Why would you google the ending and ruin it for yourself?

From: Stiles
Oh ur one of those guys who get snippy at people for flicking to the last page of books arent u?

From: Derek
What’s the point of reading a book if you know how it finishes?

From: Stiles
Dear God.


 

It was an unsaid agreement that Derek and Stiles carried on their little pre-work coffee break. Two days after Stiles’ return, as Isaac broke off to go ask Danny about something, Derek was greeted with coffee and Stiles’ patented flail-n-babble.

“Okay, so my dad knows this guy who married this girl who is friends with this guy who’s brother is a barman and long story short; do you want these tickets?”

Stiles held out two glossy orange tickets. Derek took them, staring down at the printed text with a pleased giddiness spreading within him.

“Dad heard you liked jazz,” Stiles said awkwardly, indicating for them to start making their way to the enclosure. “Apparently the line-up is really awesome.”

It was. Derek had seen the line-up billing the previous week and had practically salivated over it. He’d then had a case of minor heart break after finding the tickets were sold out.

“Are you sure I can have them?” Derek asked doubtfully. “They’re really hard to come by.”

Like paper gold. Derek should know. Stiles nodded firmly.

“I’m sure man. In fact, if you don’t accept the offer, dad will freak out ‘cause he feels like he owes you big.”

“No one owes me anything,” Derek muttered for the hundredth time. Stiles waved him off carelessly.

“Then do this as a favour to him. Just take the damn tickets and have a nice evening. He doesn’t even like jazz, though, uh, he totally should since it’s so great and stuff. Amirite?”

“You like jazz?” Derek asked cautiously. Stiles nodded brightly, which was a pretty pleasant surprise.

“Oh. In that case, you should come with me,” Derek offered, still staring down at the tickets in mild awe. Stiles made a noise which kind of sounded like the noise Wolf made whenever you (accidentally, whatever Isaac should accuse Derek of) trod on her mangy tail. “But it doesn’t matter if you don’t want to, I could ask - ”

“I do!” Stiles said hastily. “Like. Wow. Why wouldn’t I? I freaking love jazz. Yeah. I mean – what’s up with Chuck guy? He’s totally rad.”

Derek can’t think of a time he ever heard someone use the word ‘rad’ without any trace of irony, and he remembers the ‘90s pretty well.

“Chuck Mangione?” Derek put forward warily. “Yeah, he’s a legend, but I prefer Larry Carlton.”

Eyes widening, Stiles bobbed his head in a mildly deranged manner, “I love that guy!”

“Really?”

Stiles’ did the weird head-bob again, practically bubbling with enthusiasm. Problem was, the enthusiasm seemed oddly false. Derek felt like Stiles was lying to him on some level, and Derek really hates being lied to.

“But I really like Dennis,” Derek quickly glanced over Stiles’ shoulder and into the enclosure, “Rock.”

“Dude. I love him too.”

“I literally just made him up.”

Stiles gaped, his mouth hanging open in a gormless, slack jawed stutter. He snapped it shut and bristled, “no fair! You can’t trip me up like that!”

“And you can’t bullshit me. If you don’t want to go, then you don’t have to.”

“I’m being a good employee.” Stiles said defiantly, his cheeks pinkening. “Laughing at my bosses jokes, liking the stuff he likes, et cetera, et cetera.”

“Right,” Derek tried hard to repress his grin. “But you never laugh at my jokes.”

“You don’t make jokes.”

“I do.”

“When?”

“All the time.” Sometimes. It was hard to joke when you were in charge of a pack of actual living creatures. Stiles seemed unconvinced and he grinned, cocksure and smug.

“Uh-huh. So what’s your favourite joke?”

“He’s standing right in front of me.”

Stiles beamed and then faltered and then snorted with laughter, “I have literally no idea if that was a compliment or an insult.” His phone buzzed and Stiles checked it with a quick downwards glance. “Oh,” he said, bringing it to his ear. “Hi Perry.”

Derek had forgotten about Perry, but if the expression on Stiles’ face was anything to go by, he wasn’t the only one. A part of him coiled tight in delight at this thought, but it was firmly quashed by the responsible, level-headed part of Derek.

“ – sure thing … Um. Yeah. Six good for you? ‘cause we kind of need to … oh… ‘kay, see you then, bye.” Stiles rang off and turned back to Derek. “Sorry about that.”

“It’s fine.”

Kind of.

“So, we still on for a Jazztastic night?”

“Only if you promise to never use the phrase ‘Jazztastic’ ever again.”

“You drive a tough bargain, Hale.”

Derek held the spare ticket aloft, “it’s not a bargain, it’s a requirement.”

Stiles sighed, “fine then. No awesome portmanteaus and witticisms.” He grinned impishly and snatched the spare ticket from Derek’s grip, “but you’re missing out on a great part of my personality.”

Derek rolled his eyes. Mostly because he knew it was the reaction Stiles was looking for, “I’ll survive.”


 

All things considered, Derek admired his ability to keep his ridiculous crush reasonably controlled. He made of point of toning down the flirting and keeping it outside of work time. He even managed to hold an amicable, albeit awkward, conversation with Perry when they crossed paths at the store.

He wanted to be with Stiles. But he couldn’t be with Stiles. He’d come to terms with that.

Mostly.

“I think we’ve both become domesticated,” Derek told Wolf glumly. Wolf mewled and butted his chin. Somehow, they’d formed an uneasy truce, fuelled by the fact that Derek fed her titbits of his dinner to stop her incessant yowling and that fact she’d since stopped abandoning her triumphant kills on his bed.

“Still doesn’t mean I like you,” he informed her. Wolf purred and dug her claws into his thigh, padding onto his leg until she deemed it a suitable place for a catnap. He absently scratched behind her ears (the only place he could touch without getting his skin shredded from him) and checked his phone.

From: Stiles
Jazz is pretty good. Not great, but good.

Derek grinned and typed out a quick reply. Wolf meowed and began nudging his hand at the sudden lack of attention.

From: Derek
I still have tomorrow evening to convince you how good it can be

It took a few seconds for Derek to re-read the text and realise how flirtatious it sounded. It also took a few seconds for Stiles’ reply to come through and Derek wondered if he was having similar thought.

From: Stiles
I’m sure you will

Chapter Text

“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.