“You’re trying to kill me,” Stiles says, falling into Scott as soon as he opens the door. He takes hold of Scott’s arms and shakes him a little. “I’ve wronged you somehow, and now you’re trying to murder me.”
Scott blinks at him. “What?”
“This! This—” He lets go of Scott to tug his phone out of his pocket and waves it in Scott’s face. “Look at this!” He clicks the home button with his thumb to light up the screen and practically shoves it up Scott’s nose—he deserves it.
Scott smiles and says, “Oh.”
“Oh? Oh?” There are important pieces of Stiles that are dying deep down inside of him, and that’s all Scott has to say for himself?
“I thought it would be funny,” Scott says. His smile wavers. “It’s not?”
Stiles looks at the lock screen of his phone again—Derek is scowling at the camera, Henley unbuttoned. He looks sleep-mussed and unamused and there are two fuzzy balls of floof cradled in his arms. One is pawing at Derek’s mouth, the other is asleep in the curve of his elbow. Both are stripy orange and fluffy-furred with pink noses and pink beans, they are so super cute it makes Stiles’s eyes water a little.
“No, Scott,” Stiles says slowly, “it is not.” What it is is devastating, never mind the fact that Stiles immediately set the picture as his wallpaper as soon as Scott sent it to him.
Scott says, “Aw, c’mon, man, it’s good for him!”
Stiles flops down on Scott’s couch with a sigh, because he can’t deny the fact that kittens are good for practically everybody. They’re like a furry balm for the soul, and they can do nothing but good for Derek’s, Stiles knows this. That doesn’t mean he has to be happy about it.
“This is terrible,” Stiles says. Terrible. His sexy dreams about Derek are going to be so much weirder now.
Scott slumps down next to him and nudges their arms together. “Have you even been over to see him yet?” he asks.
Stiles has been home on break for approximately three hours: no, he has not been over to see Derek yet. He’s not that pathetic. “What do you think?” he says.
Scott says, “I think we should pick up a pizza and go introduce you to the girls.”
The girls, Stiles thinks morosely. He’s probably going to love them, and then his stupid crush on Derek will be even more tragic. “Fine,” Stiles says, and gets ready for his doom.
The kittens are just as adorable in person, and they follow Derek around like little ducklings or ride on his shoulders like little parrots and Derek has a blush high on his ears like he’s embarrassed.
Stiles says, “What are their names?” They look almost exactly the same, an almost beige cast to the orange, except one has white on the tip of her tail, and the other has three white paws.
Derek buries his head in the fridge and says, “I’m just fostering them, I’m not going to keep them.”
Stiles rolls his eyes, but doesn’t bother calling him on that fib. There’s a giant cat tree in front of the loft windows, it’s four levels high and just as wide, with dangly bits and a two foot scratching post attached. There’s a cat bed on top of the fridge and two pink bowls by the sink that say “princess” on them.
Stiles scoops up the white-pawed one, scratching under her chin, and says, “They need names, Derek. You’re going to give them an identity crisis.” The little kitten starts purring, Stiles can feel it through the fingers he has curled under her belly.
Derek grumbles something under his breath.
Stiles cups his hand over his ear, leans toward him and says, “What was that?” because he feels like he definitely couldn't have heard that right.
Derek sighs and straightens up, three sodas in his hands as he turns to face Stiles. He squares his shoulders, stares directly into Stiles eyes, and says, “Fluffernutter and Margie.”
Scott snorts from couch, choking on a piece of pizza.
Stiles says, “Okay.”
Derek is frowning at him, brows drawn together, cheeks flushed, like he’s waiting for Stiles to make fun of him.
Stiles says, “And this one is…” holding up the little white-pawed one. She mews and squirms around in his hold until he puts her down on the kitchen island, and then she goes stalking off after a straw wrapper.
“Fluffernutter,” Derek says with a resigned air.
“Right,” Stiles says, still staring at him. Fluffernutter. Just kill him now.
“So, hey,” Scott says, “can I have my soda?”
Derek jerks his gaze away from Stiles and slips past him into the living room and Stiles shares a commiserating look with Fluffernutter, Jesus. She skitters to the end of the island and cries after Derek leaves the room.
“Come on, little princess,” Stiles says, picking her up again. “Let’s go cuddle and nurse our wounded hearts.”
Margie falls asleep in the crook of Derek’s neck, little face tucked into his throat, and Stiles can’t stop staring. Fluffernutter disappeared into the hollow between Derek’s thigh and the arm of the couch, they’re like furry little limpets—Stiles can hear the faint sound of purring, even over the TV.
Scott keeps sending him looks and waggling his eyebrows and this is all so excruciatingly painful, he’s pretty sure he’s just making Derek uncomfortable with all his hormones spilling out everywhere. Ugh. His pining has ratcheted up past one hundred now, Derek is probably sick of this shit.
Finally, Stiles rubs his palms on his thighs, stands up, and says, “I should get going. Dad’ll want me home for dinner.”
Scott eyes him like he’s crazy, because he knows that his Dad couldn’t get out of a late shift and won’t be home till nine.
The lie doesn’t seem to have flown over Derek’s head either, if the narrow-eyed look is any indication, but he just says, “Okay.”
“Okay,” Stiles says.
Scott sighs and says, “Okay, I’ll give you a ride home.”
In the car, Scott says, “When are you going to tell him?”
“Tell him what?” Stiles says, because he can play dumb like the best of them.
“What?” Stiles says. Then, at Scott’s continued, disappointed silence, “Like he doesn’t already know, are you kidding me?” It’s impossible for Derek not to know, the way they left things before Stiles’s first semester. And now Derek looks like he’s seconds away from bolting whenever they’re even briefly alone together; like Stiles’s mere presence makes him feel infinitely more uncomfortable than he already is with social interaction. It isn’t hard to guess why.
Scott gives him puppy dog eyes and a pout. “Stiles,” he says again, but Stiles waves him off and says, “Drive me home, dude,” and thinks about how terrible this whole month off is going to be.
The next day, Derek sends Stiles a text that just says: come over.
Stiles stares at it for nearly ten minutes before responding: why
Derek shoots back a pic of Fluffernutter and Margie curled up together in a patch of sunlight on top of the cat tree. Stiles doesn’t actually know what to make of that. Is this, like, a peace offering? What kind of invitation is that?
Stiles writes back: ok
It’s not like he’s doing anything productive anyway. He has ESPN on, a plate of hot pockets at his elbow and an afghan draped around his shoulders like a cape.
He glances down at his t-shirt and boxers and thinks he should probably put on some pants.
It becomes a thing. A thing where Stiles hangs out at Derek’s loft with Derek and the kittens and he’s not actually sure what’s happening. They drink hot chocolate and eat gingerbread cookies and read or watch TV and Stiles hesitates to call it companionable, but Derek doesn’t seem like he’s on edge every second of the visit, so Stiles takes that as a win.
It’s the magic of kittens and the way they attack Stiles’s feet or drape themselves all over Derek’s head or cry out when they accidentally get stuck in the kitchen sink.
Derek doesn’t even blink an eye when Scott shows up with another one.
He holds it in front of his face and waves its tiny paw and says, “Please,” and Derek doesn’t even bother saying anything, just plucks the gray kitten out of Scott’s hands and turns around.
Scott grins and shoots Stiles two thumbs up behind Derek’s back.
“Kitten therapy is the best therapy,” Scott proudly tells Stiles later, when they’re both sprawled over Stiles’s bed, waiting for Stiles’s dad to get home for dinner. “Plus, you know, we’re a little full right now, and Derek’s good with them.”
Derek is great with them. You’d think cats would be wary of werewolves, but it’s pretty much the exact opposite.
"This is going to eventually destroy me, you realize this, right?" Stiles says. His phone beeps and he holds it up over his head and there, right there, the fact that Derek routinely sends him photos of Fluffernutter and Margie with their paws all over each other's faces, that's going to be the end of him.
Scott just frowns and pats his arm and says, "C'mon, dude. It'll all be alright."
Derek names the gray one Bethy—she’s got round ears and a stubby tail and a snaggletooth—and when Scott brings by a tiny black runt that has to be fed with an eye dropper, Stiles pretty much breaks down in the bathroom, hands over his face, dying over the visual of the extreme hot-ass that is Derek Hale petting the kitten with one large finger and calling him Squeaker.
Scott says, “You okay, buddy?” through the thin door and Stiles has to splash his face with cold water to keep from crying.
It’s just… really beautiful and heartwarming and Stiles wants to be a part of Derek’s cat family so bad, how did he end up like this?
Stiles rubs his face dry with his sleeve and opens the door and says, “Yeah, I’m fine.”
Two weeks into Stiles’s winter break, Derek has five furbabies—Tim the Burmese, the lone adult in the mix, likes to sit regally in Stiles’s lap and stare him down for pets, then bunts Stiles under his chin with purrs—Stiles realizes he just has to stop.
Stop covering himself in Derek’s cats, stop going to loft, stop seeing Derek at all—nothing good can come of this. He’s got fifty pictures in his phone of Derek layered in kittens and cuteness and another twenty just of the cats alone. It’s worrying. It’s massively worrying and Stiles is getting too attached to everybody. Derek is going to have to give at least some of them up for adoption eventually, right, and he'll never love Stiles the way he wants him to and Stiles is just going to keep getting hurt.
So Stiles hangs out at his own house and ignores his dad’s pointed questions and also Derek’s text messages—like “Squeaker climbed the cat tree today,” and, “Tim hasn’t stopped staring at the door, when are you coming over?”—until they stop, and also the way Scott looks at him like he’s an idiot.
Stiles is not an idiot. Stiles is practicing self-preservation—it’s a new look on him, he admits that, but it had to happen at some point, there’s only so many ways Stiles can almost die before it sticks, he might as well start small, with his heart.
Kira shows up on day five of his self-imposed exile and gives him a hug. A long, lingering, careful hug you’d give a dying person, he kind of just cautiously pats her back in return.
“It’s okay,” she says into his shoulder.
“It is?” Stiles isn’t exactly sure what’s going on.
She pulls away a little and looks into his eyes and says, “Derek thinks you hate his cats so he’s thinking about giving them all back to Scott.”
“What?” How could Derek think that? Stiles loves his cats, he was going to buy Tim a harness before this whole avoidance debacle started; Tim and him are bros, they were going to explore the world together!
“It’s hard, I know,” Kira says, “but you’re going to have to tell him.”
“He already knows!” He absolutely knows about Stiles’s embarrassing crush on him, that’s why everything was so terrible in the first place! There’d been a weird, awkward almost-kiss before Stiles left for college—Stiles’s lips had ended up on the corner of Derek’s mouth, when he’d turned his face away at the last second, there had been staring at the ceiling and blotchy blushing and Stiles has erased it from his memory, that didn’t actually happen, okay?—and then Derek didn’t talked to him for three months and now this; it’s unbelievable.
Kira reels him back into the hug, extra tight, and says, “At least tell him you want the cats, okay? Scott doesn’t have anywhere else to place them, and I’m pretty sure Derek will cry.”
Stiles shows up at Derek’s loft with a bagful of cat treats and toys as an apology to the furbabies and says, “I think you should just adopt them all yourself,” when Derek opens the door.
He shoves the bag into Derek’s hand and immediately scoops up Tim and drapes him over his shoulder, whispering nonsense and promises into his ears.
“Um,” Derek says. “Okay.”
Stiles frowns and looks over at him. “Wait, what?”
Derek frowns too and says, “Do you not… want me to? Because you—”
“Kira said you were going to give them all away!” Stiles says, and then he spots some kind of large, hairy beast, it honest-to-god looks like a trash panda, it’s covered in shadows and eyeing him from the top of the refrigerator but there’s a distinctive and suspicious black band across its eyes. “What the hell is that?”
Derek crosses his arms over his chest defensively. “Herbert.”
“Derek,” Stiles says, “I’m pretty sure that’s a raccoon.” Derek has a problem.
God, Stiles has a problem for thinking that’s cute.
Derek says, “I found him in the alley out back,” and of course he did. Of course.
He closes his eyes in silent prayer.
Then, after a long moment, he says, “You’re really going to keep them all?” Tim is purring like a fiend, boneless in his arms. In about five minutes he’ll probably start acting aloof, since Stiles has been missing for the better part of a week, but right now he’s basking happily in Stiles’s affection.
Derek shrugs and doesn’t actually answer. Squeaker is attacking his shoelaces, so it kind of takes away from his stone-faced stare.
Derek says, “Do you want pizza?” and Stiles sighs and gives up and drops down onto the couch and says, “Yeah, I could eat.”
Herbert turns out to not actually be a raccoon, just a really big-boned stray tom with unfortunate black and white markings on his face, severely matted fur and an attitude problem. He hates everyone and takes over the cat bed on the fridge exclusively and has to be fully sedated for a checkup and a bath.
Deaton shaves him almost completely bald to get the knots out and he attacks everyone’s heads with claws and by the time Stiles is getting ready to leave for college again basically no one is allowed near the fridge at all without a helmet.
“Good luck with Herbert,” Stiles says, shifting awkwardly on his feet by the loft door. He’s got his jeep packed; he just dropped by Derek’s on his way out of town to say goodbye to the cats.
Margie is perched on Derek’s shoulder, her floofy tail curled around the back of his neck. She’s only slightly longer than when Stiles first met her, her ears are still endearingly too large for her head.
Derek says, “Thanks.” The tops of his cheeks are pink and he absently palms Margie’s entire face, ears spread between his fingers, and Stiles’s heart starts pounding high up in his throat, because crap.
Crap, he’s going to do this again, isn’t he?
And then, before he can so much as twitch forward, Derek has his hands on his face and his mouth on his mouth and Stiles is floored enough that it’s still a little awkward, so much so that Derek hesitates and starts to pull away.
Stiles hastily gropes for him to stay, says, “Wait, no,” and clutches at the collar of Derek’s shirt. He’s only a little sorry when Margie merrows at being jostled, vaguely registering the thump of her jumping off Derek’s shoulder, because Derek is breathing into him and his palms are rubbing all along Stiles’s back now and Stiles will learn how to live with Herbert, eventually, because he’s never planning on letting go.
“College,” Derek murmurs, pulling away.
Stiles blinks open his eyes in a daze and says, “What?”
“Don’t you need to go?” Derek says gruffly, but he’s staring at Stiles’s mouth, so he doesn’t let the words bother him.
“Right,” Stiles says. There’s pressure at his shin and Stiles glances down to see Tim twining all around his calves, like he doesn’t want him to leave. Stiles takes a deep breath and says, “I think I can wait another day.”
Herbert hisses from the dark abyss above the fridge, like he’s plotting Stiles’s eminent death, but Derek’s smile is so bright and wide that Stiles will happily wear his old high school lacrosse helmet in the kitchen for the rest of his life.
“That’s…good,” Derek says, and Stiles rolls his eyes a little and kisses him again.