Derek often thinks of Stiles as the group's token ten-year-old. There's really nothing he does that's even remotely mature, but he's still kind of nice to have around because it makes the rest of Derek's ridiculous pack look positively wise and dignified in comparison. Plus, Derek's been working on a strategy of motivation through shaming. What kind of wolves are they even, if a mere human can stuff more curly fries into his face at one time than any of them can? They're apex predators, and they need to start acting like it.
So he takes them on a trip to the zoo, because it's a valuable learning opportunity, but also because he's hoping maybe it will tire Stiles out and the kid will actually just go home at a reasonable hour and leave Derek alone. He's hoping to get in some quality brooding time.
The zoo trip, though, is when Derek figures out that he's wrong. Stiles isn't the token ten-year-old. He's more like a five-year-old, really. Derek's been too generous, all this time.
Still, at least he's appropriately enthusiastic. Derek stands in front of the reinforced glass barrier in the big cat house and tries to lecture his motley pups about predatory behavior while behind him in the enclosure the tigers are going absolutely apeshit. It ought to be a really good visual demonstration of Derek's point, because those tigers are large, powerful predators, and they aren't afraid to use the assets available to them, even if all they can do is scrape their teeth against the glass and rattle the building with the sound of their roars. They're certainly doing their best to defend their territory against an invading hostile force and they might not be able to bust through the barrier containing them but they're definitely doing a good job of giving Derek the crazy-eyes. If he could even teach his pack to look at an enemy like that, they might just survive the year.
But Isaac just looks kind of wide-eyed and cowed by the whole display, and Boyd and Erica are demolishing a huge skein of cotton candy and ignoring everything Derek's trying to tell them altogether. Jackson looks bored and Lydia's looking at the tigers like she's not impressed with their bullshit. Lydia's the one with immunity, for god's sake, she's still human and Derek thinks it's more likely that those tigers would run in terror from her than from any of his wolves. He sighs and tries not to visibly deflate, because he has an image to maintain.
So he just turns around and looks at the tigers because seriously, they're beautiful as fuck even if they're currently doing their best -- not good enough -- to remove his head from his shoulders. And when he turns around, that's when he sees Stiles.
Stiles, who wasn't formally invited because Scott wasn't coming (he's too good to hang out with them apparently, and that stings because they're supposed to be wolf brothers, like Scott doesn't even get it), and Scott's made it pretty clear that Stiles is more a part of his pack than Derek's, which is bullshit, so when Stiles just showed up ready for the outing, Derek brought him along, because why not?
He'll probably regret it later, but right now Stiles is plastered to the glass, his eyes huge and his pulse racing with excitement. When the tigers roar again Stiles shouts, "Holy shit man, you can feel the sound vibrating right through the glass!" When the tigers jump up with their massive front paws against the glass, Stiles slaps his own hand up like he thinks they're trying to give him high-fives.
Derek takes out his cell phone and takes a picture, because really in that situation there's nothing else to be done. He'll probably need to get in some just general humiliation from Stiles while he can because at this rate they're totally going to get kicked out of the zoo. He can already hear a docent running from somewhere to try to figure out why the tigers are suddenly losing their shit.
Finally Stiles turns around and says, "So, are we done with the lecture portion of the morning?" and when Derek scowls at him and turns back to his pack to move them on to the next exhibit, where he can demonstrate the strength of a prey animal's flight response, it turns out the lecture portion is over because his audience is gone. Like really gone. He can't even see them and their scent trails, muddied by the stink of the big cat house, are meandering off in three different directions.
Derek scowls, but Stiles doesn't even seem to notice, which is probably because Derek is usually scowling. He needs to learn how to ration his really severe expressions, because everybody's become immune to them already, and it's really irritating.
"Lighten up, sourwolf," Stiles says, which has the opposite effect of making Derek lighten up. "Did you know this zoo has wolves? I want to see if they'll talk to you in the language of your people. By which I mean eyebrows, not so much howls."
He laughs at his own joke, and then he grabs Derek by the hand and tows him down several pleasantly sun-dappled paths, past an enclosure full of bighorn sheep who run for the far fence the moment they get a look at Derek and a couple of emus who start full-on panicking and a polar bear who just ignores them altogether and keeps swimming in depressingly obsessive loops like he's got OCD. (Derek's never doing a field trip to the zoo again, it's kind of depressing, and not just because Derek's own pack has ditched him.)
When they get to the grey wolf enclosure, they can't actually see any wolves. It's a pretty big space, and there are enough trees and rocks and other habitat landscaping that the wolves have plenty of places to disappear themselves, if they really want to. According to the sign there are eight of them in there, all in one pack, but they can't see hide nor hair of a single one, though Derek can hear them, somewhere back in the trees.
Stiles leans eagerly against the rail outside the enclosure at first, peering through the fence, but after a minute he sags a little, realizing the wolves aren't just cleverly camouflaged, they're totally invisible like furry little ninjas.
It takes Derek almost that long, too, to realize that he and Stiles are still holding hands. And then he takes another moment to appreciate that he doesn't really want to let go.
"Are they hiding from you?" Stiles asks.
"No, they're just cautious," Derek says. "Not like tigers. Too bad the others aren't here; these wolves could have taught them a thing or two about not rushing into bad situations like complete dipshits."
Stiles snorts and says, "Please dude, you're one to talk," and then he squeezes Derek's hand as if to say he doesn't mean it, and Derek realizes again that neither one of them is letting go, and he's completely fine with that, actually.
He turns to look both ways along the footpath, but it's a weekday morning and there's nobody around, so he pulls Stiles in by the hand until their bodies are pressed together at the hip, and Derek says, low, "You want to see them?"
Stiles grins and nods with all the infectious energy of his inner five-year-old and says, "Do I want to see them?" like it's the stupidest question he's ever heard, which it kind of is.
Derek lets out a low, interrogative whine; if the wolves are able to understand him, it will basically mean Hi, hello, just passing through, I'm not here to steal your shit and by the way you look just awesome today. He figures a little flattery won't hurt.
And the wolves do understand, apparently, because they just start appearing, one by one, and they really do look awesome, and beautiful, and just the sight of them makes Derek's heart hurt with missing his family but it's worth it for the look on Stiles' face, especially when one of the younger females comes right up to the fence to inspect them like they're the ones caged for her perusal.
Stiles is absolutely ecstatic over them, and he talks to them and watches them avidly and chatters on to Derek about the latest research on hierarchy in wild packs and the wide dietary variations depending on region and the effectiveness of wolf reintroduction in Yellowstone Park and just... it becomes obvious that Stiles has been doing too much research, and Derek needs to stop him before he starts talking about mating because that's going to be embarrassing for everybody. Not to mention that the wolves are already bored with them, and starting to retreat back into their favored hiding places. Most of them return to pile together in the little den-space they've dug into the side of a landscaped hill; Derek and Stiles interrupted their nap time, and they seem pretty keen on getting back to it.
"Oh," Stiles says, when the last one disappears, and he looks disappointed. His grip on Derek's hand loosens, like he's going to let go, and Derek gives himself one last moment to enjoy the contact while he can because it's kind of nice, now that he thinks about it.
But then Stiles says, "Hey, have you ever seen an okapi? Derek, you haven't lived until you've seen on okapi. Come on," and then they're off again, so Derek just slots their fingers together, holds on tight, and enjoys the ride.