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Howl Creek Ranch

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Derek looked at the number on his ringing phone, and, as usual, was torn. He both loved and hated getting calls from shelters. Loved it, because it meant he was helping, that there were animals that were being protected because he was able to help care for them, and hated it because it meant there were sweet babies in the world that nobody wanted. He hit the accept button. “Hale,” he said shortly.

“Terse as ever, I see,” Boyd said, sounding amused.

“You know how I feel about this,” Derek said. “What’s up.”

He could hear Boyd shifting in his chair on the other end. “I’ve got a few dogs that just aren’t doing well here, Derek. One of them has been here two days, and he’s already breaking my heart. Won’t eat, won’t move, just sits in the corner of his pen and shivers.”

Derek’s heart hurt for the abuse such an animal must have suffered. “And the others?”

“One’s a pit-rottie mix, and the sweetest little girl I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting, but once people hear what she is, they turn white and run. The other is a three-legged Jack Russell with more energy than any terrier has a right to have. She’s been here long enough that the director is making noises about being unadoptable, and you know what that usually means.”

Derek repressed the urge to growl. “Your director’s an idiot,” he said shortly.

“You know it. So, can you come get them?”

Derek looked across the fenced in pasture he was working in, where a post had been wobbling. At the far end was his partner and friend, Stiles Stilinski, currently working with two of their hands to train a couple of pups. Around them were four or five extra dogs, the ones that tended to follow Scott and Isaac around no matter what any of them did, while the rest of the ranch pack prowled the edges in the next pen over. “Lemme talk to Stiles, but probably. Few of ours recently...” He stopped, a little choked up. He hated it when any of their dogs left, whether it was for a new home or because they passed on from old age. The dogs he was talking about had been of both, four of their service dogs going to their new home, and three dying in their sleep.

“I’ll expect you, then. Call me and let me know if that changes.” Boyd said goodbye and hung up, leaving Derek watching his partner double over with laughter as Scott was smothered in puppies.

Stiles couldn't help it. The look of shock and helplessness on Scott's face was just too much for him. "Yeah, you show them who's boss, Scott."

"That actually looks kind of fun," Isaac sat down in the grass to help relieve some of the puppy load off of Scott.

Stiles shook his head in amusement as Isaac started playing with them. "This is supposed to be training time, not playing time," he reminded them. Scott still looked at a loss for what to do and Stiles scooped up a pup that had decided to play tug of war with Scott's pant leg. This wasn't getting anywhere.

Derek rolled his eyes as he saw what was going on. It was a wonder that anything had gotten done to keep the ranch functioning. "Stiles?" He called once he got in earshot and wasn't flat out yelling. "Boyd just called."

"Fuck," Isaac said, looking up from the puppy belly he was rubbing. "How many?"

"Three," Derek stuffed his hands in his pockets.

"You said yes, right?" Scott sat up, gently pushing a puppy down off his chest. He looked up at Derek expectantly but Stiles replied before Derek had a chance to.

"Of course he said yes," Stiles almost scoffed. It was a dumb question for Scott to ask since he couldn't actually remember a time when Derek had said no. "What else did he say about them?” he asked Derek, who simply shrugged.

"Come and see for yourself," he started to turn away from them. "I'm going to make sure the kennels in the truck are clean. We'll head out in 10," he smiled slightly. "Should give you enough time to get your plays out."

Isaac scooped up one of the puppies and turned her upside down, making her bark and squirm. “Playtime!” he cheered, and rubbed his cheek against her belly.

“You’re all children,” Stiles said with a roll of his eyes, but he romped with them, too. What good was having a puppy ranch if you couldn’t play?

Ten minutes later, Scott was squished into the back of the supercab, with Derek driving and Stiles in the front seat. “So, seriously, what are we looking for? Adoptables?”

Derek shook his head. “Dunno. Maybe? One probably not. Dunno, though.”

"A man of many words," Stiles mumbled and looked out the window as Derek drove down the dirt driveway that led off the ranch. He chuckled at some of the dogs he could see playing and running off in the fenced area off their house.

"Why do you think he called us and not Silver Arrow?" Scott leaned forward, resting his arms casually over the backs of the seats.

"Dunno." Derek gave a quick glance over his shoulder at Scott before turning onto the paved road. "Hope you weren't looking for an excuse to go over there."

"What?" Scott startled himself into sitting upright. "Of course not," he sputtered.

"Wow, are you a terrible liar," Stiles laughed.

Scott leaned back. “I really am,” he groaned. “I can’t help it. Allison is so beautiful.”

“Traitor,” Stiles said with a grin.

“But have you seen her smile? It’s so--”

“Oh my god, stop,” Derek glanced in the rearview mirror. “Seriously.”

"You do realize she's the enemy, right?" Stiles turned in his seat to look at Scott.

"Stiles," Derek really couldn't believe this conversation was taking place.

"I know," Scott slouched back into his cramped seat. "But, I just..."

"She is not the enemy!" Derek said firmly. "Where are you guys getting this stuff?"

"Isn't she?" Stiles turned his gaze to Derek. "Our adoptions have gone down since she expanded to rescues too and Erica's always snarly on the phone whenever I call over there."

"What?" Scott leaned forward again. "Why are you calling over there?"

"Just stop!" Derek's tone cut through them and everyone in the cab fell silent. "Thank you."

It didn’t last long. Stiles was in the truck; it couldn’t. “Have you heard from that breeder?” he asked Derek.

“The one who was going to get out of breeding and give us all her dogs?” Derek asked. “That breeder?”

Stiles rolled his eyes. “Yes, that breeder. Have you been talking to more than one?”

“You coulda meant the one that occasionally gives us the lab puppies he doesn’t want,” Derek pointed out.

“You’re impossible.”

Derek smirked a little. “No, I haven’t. Was going to call her today, and then Boyd called. I’ll do it tomorrow, once we get these guys settled.”

"You guys bicker like an old married couple," came a comment from the peanut gallery in the backseat.

"Shut up, Scott," both Derek and Stiles chimed.

"It's true," Scott grumbled and folded himself up in his seat.

Another few minutes of quiet passed before Stiles opened his mouth again. "So, I was thinking..."

"Oh god," Derek groaned.

"Hey! That is not an acceptable response to ideas, okay?" Stiles protested. "My ideas are totally awesome and deserve to at least be heard."

Derek glanced at him, skepticism clear on his face. "Okay then," he said slowly.

"So," Stiles took that as an okay to voice his idea. "I think it'd be totally awesome if we had chickens."

Derek was silent for a moment. “Chickens,” he finally said, flatly. “Why chickens?”

"Think of all the money we could save!" Stiles' arms flailed and he reined them in when he realized accidentally smacking the driver was a really bad idea. "You eat like 17 eggs for breakfast each day, which, not judging, seriously not judging. But eggs are expensive. And if we had chickens we'd get free eggs!" he grinned.

"So... as someone who would be the one stuck feeding these chickens, do I get a say?" Scott's voice was small.

"No," Stiles didn't even look at him; his eyes were on Derek.

Derek knew that there was no way he could say no to Stiles. He’d been trying ever since they’d met in college, and had yet to manage it. “You can have your flock of chickens,” he said. “And we’ll all take turns with the chickens,” he added, glancing in the backseat. “Do the research, let me know, and...I’ll help.”

Stiles beamed at him. “I’ve already done most of it. I know what breeds to get, though I want at least one fluffy chicken, and I’ve looked into converting one of the sheds into a coop.” He rattled on for the next several minutes about all the things he’d looked up, and the plans that he’d made, until they pulled into the parking lot at the shelter. “So, I’m thinking two dozen chickens to start with,” he finished, unbuckling his seat belt. “More if we decide we need them.”

"You've really thought about this," Scott commented as he got out of the truck. "What else have you been thinking about?"

"You mean besides weaning our dogs off that crap dogfood and getting them onto something healthier? Tons," Stiles nodded.

"Could hear the sound of your voice a mile off," Boyd teased and stood as the trio walked in.

"Today is not make fun of Stiles day." Stiles glared at Boyd but didn't say anything else about it.

"It's just the three, right?" Derek clarified and walked up to the counter where Boyd already had all the paperwork filled out and ready. "You wasted no time," he chuckled softly. "We haven't even seen them yet."

"I just know how weak your willpower is." Boyd grinned and handed Derek the pen

"Make sure he's not making you sign for a dinosaur." Stiles came up beside Derek and glanced at the paperwork. "Last thing we need is to adopt a dinosaur. It’ll eat all the chickens."

“Chickens?” Boyd asked curiously, looking at Derek.

“Don’t ask,” Derek groaned, and signed his name. “Do any of the dogs have names they’re attached to?”

“None of them. We’ve been calling the one Shadow, and the girls Annie and Oddball, but they don’t really respond, and they’re not really descriptive names,” Boyd said. “Renaming them shouldn’t be a problem.”

Derek nodded. “All right. I’ll get Shadow, Scott, Stiles, you get the other two?”

"Seriously?" Stiles gave Boyd an odd look. "You've been calling the dog Oddball? Wow, rude." The four men walked into the back. Stiles watched Boyd point Derek off in one direction before he pointed Stiles and Scott in the other. He walked down the row of cages until he saw the one marked Oddball and he found himself looking at a three legged Jack Russell that jumped against the door of the cage to say hello. "Oh my god!" Stiles opened the cage and let the dog jump into his arms. "How could no one want you! Look how cute you are!"

Scott rolled his eyes and knelt in front of Annie's cage. She came right up to him, her tail wagging and he smiled at her, sticking his fingers slowly through the door. "Hey, girl." He pet her gently and when all she did was give him kisses, he opened the door.

Derek crouched in front of the cage marked Shadow, and his heart nearly broke. The dog was nothing more than a dark ball of fur at the back of the cage, shivering. “Oh, sweetheart,” he breathed as dark eyes full of pain and terror watched him. “I can’t tell what he is, Boyd. Do you know?”

“Medium sized, long enough fur to be a border collie, but there’s no white. He’s just black, so we think there’s something else, but...” Boyd shrugged. “Deaton might be able to tell you.”

Derek nodded. “He bite?”

“No, he just shakes. He doesn’t resist being moved, but I think that may just be a broken spirit.”

Derek hoped not, because all the love in the world couldn’t fix a broken spirit. He carefully opened the kennel and waited, letting him see that he wasn’t going to lunge before reaching in slowly. “Hey there,” he murmured, running his hand very lightly over the dog. Shadow just shook harder, and whimpered slightly, but he didn’t move. “Fuck. Boyd, you should have called me sooner.”

“Probably,” Boyd said with a sigh. He watched Derek pick up Shadow, cradle him close to his chest and stand. “I hope you can help him.”

"What happened to him?" Stiles had come to look but made sure to stay a safe distance because of the wiggling dog in his arms.

"We don't know," Boyd shrugged. "Someone called up saying there was a dog on their property and we came to get him. No one knew where he'd come from."

"That's horrible." Scott also made sure to stay back. "I already put Annie in the truck," he said as he gestured over his shoulder.

“Stiles, I think he’s going to have to stay with us,” Derek said, keeping his voice low and soft. It was a big thing to say that, because none of the dogs stayed in the main house with the two owners. Derek didn’t think Shadow would survive being in the barn with the rest of the pack, though, not even in a kennel apart from the rest.

“You’re probably right,” Stiles said, handing Oddball off to Scott. “Poor baby.”

“Just take care of him,” Boyd said, coming as close to begging as he ever did. “Because if you can’t, I don’t think anyone can. And keep him away from women, if you have any show up. You think he shuts down now, he pretty much goes catatonic around them.”

Derek had to work hard to suppress the growl of anger at that. That kind of response from a dog, especially one like the one in his arms, suggested severe abuse and neglect. “Noted,” he managed.

Stiles nodded, "Okay, let's get him home." He and Derek were going to need to do a lot of talking and planning about this one. Sometimes he just hated people so much. They left the shelter and once the dogs were secure in the kennels they pulled out of the parking lot.

"So.. how do you guys even deal with a dog like Shadow?" Scott asked after a while of silence. "I mean, is there hope for him?"

Derek sighed. “There’s hope, if his spirit isn’t broken,” he said quietly.

“We had a dog, back when we first started this ranch,” Stiles said, looking out the window. “His name was Rex, and he was just as bad as Shadow. Worse, almost, because he didn’t even tremble. He just didn’t...react to anything. There wasn’t anything in his eyes, nothing left of him. Deaton had to put him down after two months, because he just wasn’t responding, and it was kinder. He just lay there, day after day. He barely ate, wouldn’t go out unless we physically took him outside, unless it was so dire that he was going to make a mess. If Derek yelled at me over anything, Rex would hide in the tiniest spot he could wedge himself into, and it would take us hours to get him back out. There was no fixing that.”

Scott made an unhappy sound. “And Shadow?”

“I don’t think his spirit is broken,” Derek said after a long pause. “I hope it isn’t. But it’s going to take a lot of work, and I think we’re going to have to declare the house off limits for a while, until we know how he’s going to react to things.”

"I hope you guys can help him," Scott's voice got quiet. "Sucks that no one knows who did that to him." He glared out the window.

"People are assholes," Stiles agreed.

They were quiet the rest of the way and once they made it back home they left Scott and Isaac to put Annie and Oddball in the barn with the kennels for the newer dogs. Stiles brought one of the larger kennels into the main house and set it up in a quiet room. He made sure the bedding was clean and didn't smell of any other dogs and that everything was setup before wandering through the house looking for Derek, who had kept an eye on the dog while he set everything up.

He found Derek sitting on the living room floor, watching a corner of the room. A closer look showed Shadow hiding there, shivering. “He’s going to take so much work, Derek,” Stiles said, crouching next to Derek, one hand on his shoulder for balance. “It might be Rex all over again.”

“I can’t just give up on him,” Derek said, his voice soft and quiet. “Look at him. He’s petrified. He’s absolutely petrified...but there’s something there. There’s feeling, emotion...but under that, there’s hope.”

"Hope's a good thing," Stiles nodded slowly, his heart breaking as he watched the dog. "We need to show him where I put the water bowl and his bed. We should also feed him, he's way too skinny."

“Boyd said he wouldn’t eat,” Derek said. He took a deep breath and slowly rocked forward on his knees, reaching one hand out slowly to Shadow. He watched the dog hesitate, and then curl tighter in himself. He sighed. “All right, boy, we’ll do it this way tonight.” Derek got up and, moving slowly, scooped the dog up into his arms and carried him to where Stiles had set the kennel up. He laid the dog inside, and immediately backed up. “I hope this works, Stiles,” Derek said, not having to turn to know that his partner and friend was right behind him.

"It will," Stiles nodded again. "But unfortunately we're going to need to force feed him. He needs to eat, Derek. And who knows, maybe once he's not malnourished he might feel a little better."

“Can we give him one night?” Derek asked. He wanted to try, to see if a warm home instead of a cold pound would help. “Please, Stiles?”

Stiles took a deep breath and it sounded almost a sigh when it came out. "Okay. But I'm going to give him some of the hamburger meat to see if he'll eat it," he said as he walked out of the room to head to the kitchen.

Derek stomped hard on the urge to grab Stiles and kiss him for that. There was a lot to be said for their relationship, the way they worked together to make Howl Creek work, turn enough of a profit to support all of them and the dogs they couldn’t stop bringing in. So much that Derek refused to put it in jeopardy just to indulge a whim. “Thank you,” he said when Stiles came back. “I mean it.”

"You don't need to thank me." Stiles set the bowl of chopped meat next to the water bowl then stood back up. "We both want the same thing. I just don't want him to die of dehydration and starvation before we can fix him."

Derek felt like he’d been doused with cold water, and didn’t even know why. “Right,” he said. “See you in the barn.” He spun on his heel and headed out of the house. Obviously, whatever it was he was feeling was one sided. He was glad he’d kept the urge to himself.

Stiles blinked in confusion as he watched Derek go. He looked down at Shadow. "What do you think's bugging him?" he asked the dog. He sighed when he didn't get as much as a curious head tilt and left the room, hoping that when he returned there'd be a little less meat in that bowl.

Scott looked up when Derek came into the barn, his task of pouring the dog food from a big bag to a bin abandoned for a moment as he tried to figure out the look on Derek's face. "Why do you look like you swallowed a lemon?"

“Swallowed water wrong,” Derek said shortly. “How much of that food do we have left? We to a point we need to reorder yet?”

Scott blinked. “No... soon, though. I was gonna put in an order for that new stuff Stiles wants, so we could mix it.” He hesitated. “You sure you’re okay?”

“Let me know when you want to order, all right?” Derek said and headed for the back of the barn.

"Hey," Stiles nodded to Scott as he walked in the barn. "You're not running low, are you?"

Scott made a noise of annoyance. "The two of you are like a broken record. No, we're good right this second. I'll let you know when we need to reorder."

"No need to get snippy, Scott," Stiles looked at him oddly then went further into the barn. He found Derek in front of the crates Oddball and Annie had been put in and snickered as he watched Oddball trying to make her bed more comfortable. She pawed at it, which was awkward with her only having one front leg. It kinda looked like she was doing one armed pushups. "That dog?" he pointed at her, "is being renamed Cassidy," he told Derek.

Derek blinked. “Cassidy?” he asked.

“Yeah, as in Hop Along Cassidy?” Stiles said, grinning proudly at his own cleverness.

Derek groaned. “Stiles, that’s awful,” he said, but the dog barked. “What, you like the name Cassidy?”

Stiles snickered as the pup barked again, and bounced around on her hind legs, waving her front paw in the air. “Oh, you’re a handful. You barely have any room to bounce, and you’re doing it.”

Derek shook his head. “What about the other one?” he asked.

“Don’t have a name for her yet. We may have to stick with Annie until we know more about her.”

"She's really sweet," Isaac said softly as he came up behind them. "Like a cookie. I think we should name her Cookie.”

Derek blinked and turned to look up at him. “Cookie?”

"Wouldn't that confuse her when you wanted to actually give her a cookie?" Stiles looked at the dog, whose tail was wagging.

Isaac shrugged.

Derek shook his head. “All right, then unless we come up with something else...Cookie it is.”

Isaac gave them a shy smile. “She’s a sweet girl,” he said. “She’ll be good for someone some day.”

“I’m sure she will,” Derek said as he stood. He headed out to check the rest of the pack, including the litter of puppies that were about two weeks old. He knelt in the stall they’d set aside as a whelping box and pet the mother’s head. She’d come to them about a month before the puppies were born, already pregnant. She was a lab mix, and looked like she’d gotten to another lab mix of some kind. Two of her puppies were little balls of fluff, while the other five looked like they’d be more lab sized and shaped.

“How’re you, girl?” he asked, petting her some more. He smiled as she thumped her tail on the blankets, the puppies squeaking in a pile as they nursed. Derek watched in silence, trying to calm himself back down from dealing with Shadow and the need to repress his traitorous feelings. He smiled briefly as one of the fluffiest puppies detached from its mother, and wobbled towards him, half creeping, half walking. Derek scooped it up and sat back on the blankets, nuzzling the little animal.

"Derek..." Stiles leaned against a wooden beam, arms crossed comfortably over his chest, as he watched Derek with the tiny puppy. "You've got that look on your face."

Derek looked up. “What look?”

"The look like something's bothering you," Stiles said. "Something other than Shadow."

Derek looked back down, watching another one of the other pups crawl into his lap. “No,” he said shortly. “Not really.” Because if he said anything about what was actually bothering him, he’d lose his partnership and his ranch. There was no way he was going to jeopardize the ranch.

Stiles sighed deeply. "All of you are such horrible liars. Fine, okay." He pushed away from the beam. "I'm going to go check on pack yaps a lot."

Derek let him go. What else was he supposed to do?

Outside, Isaac was helping Scott set out the feed bowls, but looked up when Stiles came out. “You okay?”

Stiles snorted. “I’m fine, and I’m probably the only one telling the truth about that.”

Isaac blinked. “...you wanna... talk about it?” he offered, looking a little awkward about it.

Stiles blinked back at him. "If I'm fine then why would I have anything to talk about?"

Isaac put his hands up in defeat, going back to filling the bowls.

"We're fine, we're all fine, just one big group of fine," Scott mumbled.

"Say it again, Scott, and maybe you'll believe the next one," Stiles rolled his eyes.

Scott sat down heavily in the grass. "I wanna ask Allison out. Do you think she'd even say yes?"

Stiles groaned. “The only way you’re going to find out is if you actually do it and stop whining about it,” he pointed out.

“But... but what if she says no?” Scott said, deftly separating two dogs who were growling at each other.

“Then she says no. But she might say yes.” Isaac put down the last bowl. “And you’ll stop whining about it.”

Scott stuck his tongue out.

"And see, that? That there is something you cannot do in front of her, because then she'll see you as the big idiot you really are," Stiles pointed out. "Then we're going to have to chop off our ears to keep from listening to you."

"But..." Isaac hesitated and looked up at Stiles. "Chopping off your ears... it's just cartilage."

"Oh my god, fine! Pop our eardrums with q-tips, better?" Stiles flailed.

“You’re all insane,” Derek said, leaning against the doorway. “But I will buy everyone earplugs if you don’t ask her out.”

“I hate you all,” Scott said as he flopped backwards.

Derek looked up as a car headed up the driveway and smiled a little to himself. He loved days like today, when someone got their service dog and the whole world opened up to them. Today, they were matching up a hearing service dog with a girl about thirteen years old and he was excited.

He strode over to the car, waving as the family got out. “Hi, welcome to Howl Creek Ranch,” he signed as well as spoke. “I’m Derek Hale. Are you Andrea?” he asked the girl who seemed to be watching his hands the most intently.

“Yes,” she signed. “I’m Andrea. Thank you for training my dog for me.”

Derek smiled. “My pleasure,” he told her. “His name is Bermuda and he’s over here, with my friend Stiles. Would you like to meet him and the rest of the dogs we have here?”

Andrea nodded enthusiastically and her mother put a hand on her shoulder as they walked over to where Stiles was waiting with Bermuda and a few of the puppies.

"Hi," Stiles waved as they came up to him. "I'm Stiles," he signed, his fingers forming sloppy letters that took him way longer than it should have to get out. It made Andrea laugh. Stiles brushed it off and kept signing. E for effort right? Or something like that. He showed her Bermuda and started explaining all the different things he could help her with. At some point, he gave up trying to sign it all and Derek picked up the slack.

When Stiles began going over the general things about caring for the dog with the parents, Derek pulled Andrea over to the pen where the puppies were playing. "Someday they're going to be service dogs just like Bermuda," he signed to her. "They're going to help people too."

“Are they all going to be hearing dogs?” Andrea asked, giggling at one who was pouncing on every other puppy it could reach.

“No. Some of them will be seizure dogs, some of them will be mobility dogs, and some will be therapy dogs. It depends on their best training results and their temperaments,” Derek told her. “Are you ready to learn a couple of basic things with Bermuda before you take him home and you start training together?”

Andrea nodded enthusiastically. Derek took in the smile on her face and was incredibly pleased with the results they were about to give her. He loved opening up someone’s world. “Do you have a phone?” He took the cell phone from her when she offered it to him, and quickly dialed his own phone so he had the number.

“All right, go stand over there by Bermuda,” he told her. Once she was by her new dog, he quickly dialed her phone so that it started ringing. As trained, Bermuda immediately started nosing at Andrea’s pocket where her phone had been put back, insistently and firmly. The dog stopped once Andrea put her hand in her pocket, and pulled out her phone. Andrea looked up to grin at Derek and signed thank you to him as he walked over to her.

"You're going to have to do more training with him once you get home, though," he told her. "But if you ever have any questions, both Stiles and I are just a text away, all right?" He looked up when Stiles was walking back over after finishing his explanations to Andrea's parents.

Stiles tucked the clipboard he'd been holding under his arm. “Do you like him?” he asked with a grin, and then laughed at Andrea’s effusive assurances. “Good, I’m glad. Take care of him, and he’ll never steer you wrong.”

Derek grinned a little. “Maybe a little mischief,” he said, “But nothing wrong.”

“How can we ever thank you for what you’ve done?” Andrea’s mother asked. “You’ve given her a chance to get ahead that she never would have had before.”

“It’s what we do,” Stiles said. He waved to the car as Andrea and her family drove off. Stiles was going to miss Bermuda, but the smile on Andrea's face made it worth it. It always made it worth it. He turned around just in time to see Derek walking back toward the main house. Stiles was left heading into the barn to put the puppies back and finish dealing with the paperwork before he filed it away.

"We've got more company," Isaac stood by the barn door, leaning casually with a rake in his hand that made Stiles think about those old movies from the 50's. Isaac could totally fit in with those TV farmhands. Tall, mostly dark, and wielding a rake.

Stiles walked over to Isaac, looking out to see a pickup with "Silver Arrow Ranch" detailed on the door. He sighed. "Great, just what we needed. Let's hope Scott is like 4 acres away fixing a fence. Did we tell him to do that?" he asked Isaac hopefully.

"Tell me to do what?" Scott came up behind them. Then he noticed Allison and Erica getting out of the pick up. "Oh!" Scott pushed past Isaac and Stiles to go out and greet them.

"So much for hope," Stiles groaned. Isaac just laughed softly at him.

“Hi, Allison,” Scott said, opening the door for her. “What brings you here?”

“Hi, Scott,” Allison, said, her smile soft and kind of shy. “Derek called me last night, asked if we had anything that could help a severely traumatized dog.”

“Because apparently none of you care capable,” Erica drawled, circling around the cab to smirk at them.

Stiles sighed. He hadn't known Derek had called Allison. How nice of Derek to fill him in on that little detail. "I'd bring you in to see him but well, the dog is apparently worse when women are about. I wonder if that's a sign," he smirked at Erica.

"Did you have something?" Scott nearly bounced in excitement and hope. "Something that could help Shadow?"

"I might," Allison smiled a little at him then held out a bag to Stiles. Stiles eyed the bag, deciding whether it was safe or if it was going to explode in his face.

“What is it?” Scott asked. “A toy? A treat?”

“You’re like a dog yourself, all floppy--” Erica started, but Allison cut her off with a sharp look.

“It’s some of the treats we use with our worst cases, and some of the food we’ve had the best success with when it comes to getting them to eat,” Allison said and Stiles took the bag.

“Thanks,” he said grudgingly. “We’d have been fine, you know,” he felt the need to add, and then he could have kicked himself, because seriously, wasn’t that kind of the opposite of his point?

“Yeah, I'm sure you could have,” Allison said easily. “Any dog that’s hurt that badly, though, needs all the help he can get, right?”

Stiles nodded. She was right, and he was still kicking himself for the remark. "I tried hamburger meat but he barely touched it. I don't want to have to force feed him because I don't know if he has food aversion or..." He shook his head.

"Are you staying for a bit?" Scott's voice was still shameless hopefulness. It made Stiles grimace to hear it. "I could make iced tea. Would you like some iced tea?"

"We should really be getting back," Allison said slowly, but she looked so tempted to take Scott's offer.

“Stay and have some tea,” Stiles said, in spite of himself. “Isaac is in the barn, Erica, if you’re interested.”

“Why would I be interested?” Erica said with an arched eyebrow, but she sauntered that way with a pointed look at Allison.

Scott gave Stiles a pleading look, and Stiles had to resist the urge to roll his eyes. “I'm going to take this stuff inside,” he said, and walked off, leaving Scott to attempt to keep himself together enough to ask Allison out.

"I think there's actually sun tea," Scott smiled awkwardly and gestured to the building that housed the farm hands' quarters. When Allison nodded, Scott was sure he was going to float off into the atmosphere in happiness. He walked her over there and though they were silent it wasn't uncomfortable at all. Scott couldn't stop smiling. He held his hand out to point at the pitcher of tea sitting on a wooden picnic table and after checking on it and making sure it was actually brewed enough to drink he left her out there while he went to get ice and glasses.

Allison sat down on one of the benches, her hands rubbing over her knees as she looked around while she waited for him. The farm hands' quarters were a little set back but had a nice clear view of the barn that housed the bulk of the kennel, including all the runs set up along the back of the barn. It was perfectly placed and it made Allison smile. She was still smiling when Scott came back, two glasses filled with ice. He poured her glass then handed it to her. "Isaac pre sweetens it," he made sure to say before she took a sip.

Allison appreciated the warning, but fortunately, it wasn’t brutal. “It’s good,” she told him. The beaming smile that crossed his face made her heart pound. “Thank you.”

Scott nodded, taking a large gulp of his own tea. “How are things going at your ranch?” he asked her. “Since you expanded into rescues, I mean.”

“Fairly well. We don’t have your pull with the shelters, nor your space, but we’re doing okay. I don’t think it’ll ever be as much a part of Arrow as it is part of Howl Creek, though.” Allison gave him a smile. “I’m sure you’re glad about that.”

“Yes. I mean, no. I mean... well, yes. Because I love my job and I don’t want to leave it. But no because I don’t want you to fail either.” Scott took another gulp of tea.

"Scott," Allison laughed and gently put her hand over his where it was fidgeting. "You don't need to be so nervous. We've known each other long enough now where you can relax, you know that right?"

"Yeah," Scott looked down at where her hand was over his then down at his lap. Come on, Scott, he tried to cheer himself on. You can do this. "Do you uh... maybe want to go out sometime? For... dinner? Or lunch? Or coffee?"

Allison bit her lip. “I would really like it if you took me out to dinner,” she told him, already mentally preparing herself for the hell she was going to catch from Erica and Lydia.

“Yeah?” Scott said, looking up at her, eyes full of hope. “You mean that?”

Alison snorted. “When have you ever known me to say anything I don’t mean?” she asked him.

"You? Well, never, but Stiles said that... well okay, it doesn't really matter what Stiles said," Scott rambled all in one breath. "I'm glad," he grinned. "Glad that you said yes."

"Well, I'm glad that you asked me," Allison reassured him by patting his arm. She took a slow sip of her iced tea.

"When?" was Scott's next question. "I mean, when would you like to go out? We can do a movie too, maybe?"

"You're really going to make me pick the night?" Allison laughed.

"Well, we both have pretty busy schedules," Scott pointed out. "But I'm done before 7 most nights, depending on well.. whether or not I get distracted playing with the dogs," he admitted quietly.

Allison grinned in spite of herself. “I know that feeling. How about...two nights from now?” she asked. “Does that work?”

Scott nodded. “It does, yeah. I’ll make sure I tell the others so they get me out of here. I...thank you,” he said, and flushed. “For agreeing to go out with me.”

“I’ve been hoping you would ask me out for a while now,” she admitted. “I was about to ask you out.”

“Really?” Scott asked, shocked. “That...wow.”

"Why? Is that so surprising?"

"A little? I dunno, maybe?" he shrugged. "I just worried you'd say no and then the other guys would get in on the teasing, ya know?"

"Yeah," Allison laughed, thinking again about Erica and Lydia, "I do know. I get the same. But we'll show them. We'll have a fun time." She looked at her glass for a moment and bit her lip gently. "Do you know how to ride?"

“Horses?” Scott asked. “Sort of. I’ve been on horses without being thrown, before, but other than that, not really.”

“Would...you like to?”

Scott stared at her. That sounded like she was inviting him on another date. Before they’d had their first one. “Would you be my teacher?” he asked, realizing a split second later that it could almost be flirting. Score!

“Well, yes,” Allison said, giving him a little grin. “That would be the point of me asking.”

"Well," he rolled the word around his mouth, "I'll have to check my list of dangerous sports and see if that sits somewhere on the safe side."

"Seriously?" Allison stared at him.

"No," Scott made a face like he meant it as a joke but his head jerked up awkwardly while he pondered the possible misstep. "Maybe?"

Allison laughed. "Okay well, we'll work our way up to riding, all right? We'll start on the ponies. That's not a dangerous sport."

Scott opened his mouth to say something, but movement out of the corner of his eyes distracted him. He turned his head to see Erica crowding Isaac up against the barn door. “Uh...”

Allison blinked. “I don’t know whether to interfere or to get popcorn,” she said fascinated.

“I don’t think I know, either,” Scott said. “She could chew him up and spit him out, if she wanted to...”

Allison shrugged and sipped her tea as they watched Isaac diffuse Erica. It was surprising to see him do it when he was normally quiet and mostly tried to stay out of the way. He stepped away from Erica and Allison couldn't help but chuckle at the expression on Erica's face.

"She looks like no one has ever turned her down before," Scott commented.

"I don't think anyone has," she glanced at Scott.

Scott grinned at her. “Wonder what she’ll make of that.”

What Erica apparently made of it was to stand there for a few moments, blinking, and then to saunter toward the truck, leaning against it insolently. Allison cleared her throat, smothering the wide grin she wanted to let loose. “I think I should probably go,” she said softly. “Pick me up at 7:30?” she suggested.

Scott nodded. “Yeah, 7:30. I’ll be there.” He walked her to the truck. “Thanks for bringing over that stuff for Shadow. He really is in bad shape.”

"Don't mention it," she shook her head. "Just let me know if you need any more help, really."

"We will," Scott smiled and watched her get into the truck.

"So... did you ask her?" Isaac showed up in the doorway of the barn after the truck had pulled away.

"I did," Scott hadn't turned around yet but Isaac could hear the smile in his voice.

"Oh good, so we'll get a reprieve," Stiles came up to them with a grin. "What night are we free of you?"

"Thursday," Scott made a face and couldn't stop himself from sticking his tongue out at Stiles.

Stiles snickered. “Very mature, Scott. I’m sure she’ll be very impressed.”

“Well, she was sure as hell impressed by Isaac. What did you say to Erica, dude, she looked like she’d been stabbed or something she was so surprised.”

Isaac shrugged. “Just pointed out that not everyone was interested in her charms,” he said. “Did you take Derek the stuff?” he changed the subject.

Stiles snorted. “Yeah. Am about to head back up there but I wanted to check to make sure Erica didn't eat the both of you. All teeth that one,” he made a clicking sound with his teeth.

"No eating," Isaac shook his head, trying to hide his amusement.

"Like... ever?" Stiles grinned at him. "She is kinda hot."

Isaac let out a short laugh, like he'd been expecting the joke. "I'm going to go fix something. The dogs are better company at the moment," he excused himself, but there was still a grin on his face.

Stiles let them both go, deciding that right now, discretion was the better part of valor. Teasing either of them at this point would do no good except to make them hostile. Unfortunately, that left his thoughts nowhere to go but to Derek and Shadow. Because that was a cheerful topic.

He slowly climbed the steps to the porch, wondering if Derek had gotten the dog to eat anything. The little bit of water and three mouthfuls of hamburger he’d eaten weren’t enough to get him to any kind of health. Stiles opened the door, surprised to find Derek sitting at the kitchen table, staring at his hands. “Derek?”

Derek didn’t look up. “I left him some of the food, and shut the door. I was going to sit outside the room, but I figured I’d give him a little more space.”

"Okay," Stiles went to the fridge to get a bottle of soda. "Scott finally asked Allison out," Stiles tried for potentially distracting conversation in the hopes that it would get Derek to stop staring at his hands. He grabbed a second can of soda then thought better of it and grabbed a can of beer instead. He set it down in front of Derek then sat down across from him.

Derek pulled it close and picked at the tab a bit. “So, he finally owned up to having a pair,” he said. “I’m glad of it. Maybe he’ll stop whining.” He popped the tab and took a drink. He set the can down and hesitated for a moment, and then looked up at Stiles. “I’m sorry about not warning you about her coming. I didn’t expect her to. I just wondered if she’d had any experience with a case as severe as Shadow’s.”

"Don't worry about it," Stiles waved it off. "If she can help, then it doesn't matter, okay? I just... I wish you weren't moping in the kitchen." He pulled the tab on his can of soda and took a sip. "And that's not saying I want you to go mope in another room," he added quickly after hurrying through a swallow of soda. "I just meant that you can't let this get to you so badly."

Derek studied Stiles’ face. “I can’t let him die,” he said eventually.

"No one said to let him die, Derek," Stiles said firmly. "I'm just saying that you making yourself sick with worry isn't going to help him at all. How long ago did you leave him in there with the food?"

“How long were you outside?” Derek asked, looking at his watch. “Twenty minutes, maybe? I was trying to decide how to work with him as well as with the other dogs. I don’t want to leave him alone too much, but we can’t push our presence on him overmuch, either.”

"We'll take turns. We can make it work. We will make it work," he corrected himself. "No, I'll stay here, you go for a walk."

Derek gave him a slight smile. “You just want me out of the house,” he said. “All right. I'll go and see the new puppies,” he said, standing. “Stiles...” he hesitated, wanting to say so much, but unable to find a way to put it.

"Just say it, Derek," Stiles watched him.

Derek looked at the can in his hand, fingers tightening around the thin metal for a moment. “Stiles, I..." It was there, on the tip of his tongue, all the things... “Thanks,” he said, and fled the kitchen.

"You're welcome," Stiles called after him. He sighed, took another gulp of his soda then got up, making his way as quietly through the house as he could until he reached the closed door of the room Shadow was in. He listened, trying to see if he could hear any movement but there was nothing. He creaked the door open and poked his head in. Shadow was still in his crate but the food definitely looked like it had been investigated. That was a good sign. He stepped in and closed the door behind him. "Looks like it's just you and me for a bit," he said softly, making sure to take the long way around the room to the chair in the corner. "Just you, me, and this book. Oh, and my coke," Stiles nodded and sat in the chair, his legs stretching out in front of him. He watched Shadow for a little while, neither of them moving much. "Yeah, he finally said. "I probably wouldn't touch that food either."

“Scott, you’re supposed to be teaching them how to sit, not how to jump all over you!” Derek yelled, watching in dismay as his farmhand was knocked over by a horde of barking, wiggling dogs. “Oh my god, why did I let you talk me into hiring him again?” he asked, covering his eyes with a hand.

“Because you love me and wanted me to be happy,” Stiles quipped. “Isaac, go unbury him, and take Boomer, Tomahawk, and Remington out of that class. I think they’re the ones causing the problem.” He looked at Derek. “Why did we give him six dogs to work with at once again?”

“Because he insisted he could handle it,” Derek said dryly, dropping his hand. “I think you said that you’d give it to him if he’d shut up about the last date with Allison.”

"Ah yes," Stiles nodded. "The actual horseback riding. Not the pony riding," Stiles chuckled. "Although an amusing mental image, I'd rather keep it out of my head." He turned his head to look curiously at Isaac after he returned from putting the three troublemakers away. "You know, you should let Erica take you horseback riding."

Isaac looked up from where he'd knelt down to pull another of the puppies away from Scott. "Why would I do that?"

"I dunno," Stiles shrugged and it caused both of his arms to flail a little, "Maybe because she has the hots for you?"

"No, she doesn't," Isaac scoffed. "She wants the challenge. It's all about the challenge."

"He has a point," Derek rolled his head a bit, stretching his neck. "I don't think Erica's used to the word no."

“Do you blame her?” Scott asked, finally settling himself more firmly on his feet. “I mean look at her. I may be stupid about Allison, but I’ve got eyes.”

“Well, it’s not me she actually wants,” Isaac said. “It’s the one that refuses to get into bed with her, and honestly...no. I don’t want to be anybody’s conquest.”

Stiles raised his eyebrows. “Is there a heart as well as a brain in our curly headed farm hand?” he asked. “Do you actually want love?”

Isaac regarded him steadily. “We all want love,” he said after a moment. “Some of us have it, some of us don’t. Some of us have it and don’t even realize it. At least I know what I have.”

"He sounds like a Hallmark card," Stiles said to Derek. "Think we can get him a second job writing those little blurbs?"

Derek snorted, not missing the point Isaac was trying to make, although apparently the others had. "Okay, enough chatter. Try it again, Scott, and this time, remember to make sure they know who's the boss."

"Can we call him Angela?" Stiles snickered.

“Well, his name sure isn’t Tony,” Derek quipped.

Isaac looked at both of them like they were nuts. “What are you two going on about?”

Derek sighed. “I need a cane to shake some days.” He watched Scott use the clicker, and this time, actually get the three dogs in front of him to sit. He wasn’t sure he was pleased or displeased to know who the troublemakers were. “Again, Scott.”


*~

"So I totally think there's this huge glaring thing that I'm missing because it's going right over my head and things don't normally go right over my head. I'm not Scott, ya know?" Stiles looked over at Shadow. Every time he'd picked up his book to read another paragraph, he set it down again, and since he had no one else to talk to, why not talk to someone who wouldn't judge him. He gave Shadow the side eye. "You're not judging me are you?" He took the non-reply as an affirmative thing and picked up his book again. He'd been spending time in the room on and off all week in the hopes the dog would just get used to being near people who weren't going to hurt him. He hadn't thought it was doing any good until he saw Shadow take a nibble of his food while Stiles was still in the room. Stiles thought that was totally awesome, but of course he hadn't told Derek yet.

“I mean, he’s nuts over you. He’s already absolutely madly in love, and he is determined that you get better, which is great! I am all for you getting better, but he’s ridiculous about it, and I feel like I'm missing the reason why. Or maybe you’re just a manifestation of something else. A symptom.” Stiles let his book fall back into his lap again with a quiet sigh, and looked at Shadow. “I’m totally missing it, aren’t I?”

Another space of silence taken in the affirmative. "You're eating though, right? So, I guess that means you want to get better, which is awesome because I want you to get better, too, and not just because you getting better will mean Derek will smile and Derek smiling is also awesome," he took a deep breath and looked up at the ceiling. "You could totally smile too, ya know. I mean, if you wanted. I've seen dogs smile. Hell, puppies always look like they're smiling." He stopped then. Was this really about Derek smiling?

He heard a noise out in the hall and went quiet. He didn’t know why, exactly, for a moment, until he realized that he didn’t want Derek to hear him in here. He didn’t want to give false hope. It was just Scott, though, coming in to drop off something--he could hear the thunk of something on the table--and then he left again. He settled back, and looked at Shadow, who had frozen in front of his food bowl, and... “Hey, you’ve eaten half of it!” he said softly, pleased.

The dog barely gave him a glance but Stiles didn't care. Half the bowl was more than a bite or two! He went back to his book, purposely not looking at the dog in the hopes that he'd clean out the bowl. Though maybe it was the talking that had helped? He set the book down again and looked off into space. Why couldn't he stop thinking about Derek smiling?

Maybe because it was so rare. It was a gorgeous smile; anyone with eyes could see that. It lit up his whole face, when he put no restraints on it. But why was he so intent on getting a smile out of Derek? They’d been friends for years, since they met in college in an animal physiology class (the official title was far more complicated, but fucked if Stiles could remember it), and partners in the ranch for five. That was a long time to be intent on getting someone to smile. “How long have I wanted him to smile?” Stiles asked himself. Because the answer was... “...huh. A long time. Why? I can’t...this goes beyond just friends, doesn’t it? Or does it? Do friends want friends to smile this badly? Well, of course they do,” he groaned. "What kind of friend would I be if I didn't want my friends to smile? An asshole, that's what," he almost flailed, but remembered the whole no sudden movements thing, and he didn't want Shadow to stop eating when he was mostly done with the bowl. He was going to have to remember that mix of food; obviously, it was working.

He leaned back in the chair and looked up at the ceiling again. "You're not gonna rat me out are you?" he rolled his head to look at Shadow. "Cause that steak in your food bowl is part of Derek's dinner."

Derek watched the tumbling, bumbling balls of fur, sitting on the pile of blankets next to their mother. It was amazing what a difference a week made in terms of how much puppies grew. What had been wobbly, not really walking yet newborns were now wobbling, starting-to-yip toddlers. It was hard to believe that, in a few more weeks, they would start the weaning process.

“So, what do you think of Magenta?” Isaac asked, carefully setting the fluffiest of the puppies back on her feet. She stood there for a moment, studying her brothers and sisters before lunging at a whipping tail, and catching it in her mouth.

“I think that she’s a thinker,” Derek said, smirking. “I think our best bet for service dogs are going to be Magenta, Frank, RiffRaff, and Rocky. Brad, Janet, and Columbia...” He shrugged. They weren’t going to be bad dogs, but they didn’t seem to have the innate focus that manifested early in good service dogs. Even if three weeks was really early.

Isaac flopped down onto his back and picked up Janet. He extended his arms over him and looked up at the wiggling puppy legs. "Yeah, just like your namesake huh? Just don't make poor life choices like she did. Rocky's your brother." Isaac's face scrunched up when Janet pawed in his direction and gave kisses to the air. He lowered the pup and set her down on his chest. "Have I ever told you that this is the best job ever?" Isaac looked over at Derek. "Because seriously. Best job ever."

Derek grinned. He couldn’t help it. He had puppies wriggling over his legs, yipping happily. “It really is,” he said, catching Riff before he could topple sideways off his lap. He gently stroked Riff’s head as he settled down. “How’re things going with the other pups? The ones Scott was trying to do obedience training with?”

"They handle things better one on one," Isaac shrugged. "I'm not giving up yet. Scott'll work with the others while I work with the troublemakers. It's a nice challenge."

Derek hummed. “Keep trying. I have a suspicion we’ll need to talk to Sheriff Stilinski. I think they’ll be better as police dogs, if we can get them some kind of basic training.” He looked down when he felt someone gnawing on his fingers. “If you’re hungry, go talk to your mom,” he told Frank, pulling his fingers free.

"She looks like she needs a break," Isaac reached over to pet her. "Soon, Mama, soon," Isaac said softly. "Soon you'll be free of all of them."

Derek chuckled, looking up when he heard a noise outside the stall. “Stiles? What is it?”

Stiles was grinning. “He ate! Shadow finished his entire bowl of food! He totally ate and I had to come out and tell you, because I knew you’d want to know.”

Derek felt like a weight had been lifted. Not a super huge one; just because Shadow ate didn’t mean he was going to get completely better. There were still a lot of steps to get through, but eating was an amazing first step. He grinned back at Stiles, laughing as he had to fend off the puppy that was jumping for his face, trying to lick it.

Okay so, if thinking about and wanting to see Derek smile didn't already do funky things to him, actually seeing the smile put that much more validity to the feelings he thought he was imagining. And now he was staring and god that wouldn't end well if he was caught. He looked away from Derek to snort at Isaac who was being attacked by puppies. Isaac was smiling too, and while that made Stiles happy, it wasn't the same kind of happy as seeing Derek smile. Both of them needed to smile more.

“So clearly, the place to be on this ranch is buried in puppies,” Stiles said. “How anyone gets any work done, I’ll never know.”

“This is totally work!” Isaac protested. “We’re getting them socialized and used to human interaction!”

Derek laughed again, and stood, carefully tumbling puppies off his lap. “This is great news about Shadow,” he said, and pulled Stiles into an impulsive hug. “Seriously.”

There was a victory hug. It was a rare thing from Derek, and Stiles never really thought about it before but now it made him think, and oh god. He patted Derek on the back a few times then pulled back, awkward smile on his face. "It's a step," he didn't want to burst any happy bubbles. "Hopefully there will be more steps in the right direction and they won't require you forfeiting your dinner."

Derek stopped. “You forfeited my dinner?” he said in dismay. “You gave him my steak?”

Stiles’ eyes widened. “Whoa, look at the time, need to help Scott with the evening feeding!” he said and ducked away.

Derek looked at Isaac and gave him a mournful face. “He gave Shadow my steak.”

Stiles set a plate with a steak and stir fried veggies down in front of Derek before sitting down with his own plate of chicken stir fry. He pushed the beer can closer to Derek with a nod. "So the puppies are looking good, yeah?"

Derek looked down at his plate for a moment, not entirely sure what it was he was feeling. That was steak. But Stiles had given his steak to Shadow. Which mean this was Stiles’ steak. That he had given to Derek. “Yeah,” he said, a beat too late, looking up. “They do. I think we’ll have four service dogs out of the litter, and the others will make good companion dogs. I mean. They’re only three weeks old, but.”

"I'm sure they'll turn out to be mean and vicious face lickers. Gotta watch out for those," Stiles pointed out with his fork. "I got a call into that new shelter that opened up just over the county line. I couldn't tell whether they were ecstatic or confused when I talked to them. I just hope the whole 'call us before you kill anything' message got across," he shook his head and laughed softly. "Some people shouldn't run shelters."

Derek could well imagine that conversation. Stiles could be cuttingly vicious when it came to the rescues. “If they value their sanity and their place in the community, they’ll call,” he said. “People won’t deal with them if they know they’re killing instead of giving them to us or to Silver Arrow.” He paused. “Is it bad to want a shelter to go out of business?”

Stiles looked up after attacking the foot on his plate with the salt. "Of course not. We support the ones who want to help. Best we can do with assholes is wish them out of business." He took another bite of the stir fry and made a content noise. Even with the soy sauce there wasn't enough salt. Now it was perfect. He looked at Derek thoughtfully while he chewed. "Whatcha thinking over there, buddy?"

Derek, who had been thinking about how amazing Stiles was, and how much he wanted to kiss him, jerked, startled. “What? Oh...Shadow,” he said improvising quickly. “You really got him to eat a whole bowl of food?”

"I didn't do anything," Stiles shrugged, picking at his food with his fork. "I just put the bowl down and waited him out. He ate all his own," he knew he shouldn't be giving Derek false hope, but he was totally proud when Shadow finished that bowl of food. It was a small win and he hoped it didn't get Derek's hopes up too much. "We'll see if we get a repeat performance tomorrow."

“Thank you,” Derek said. “I know that...you think I’m a little over invested. So. Y’know. Thanks.” He dug into his dinner, relishing the rare steak and the perfectly cooked vegetables. Stiles really was an amazing cook. Another reason on the mile long list that Derek was in love with him. And another reason to never admit. “So, if he keeps eating, when do you think we should start conditioning him?”

"I think we need to go at Shadow's pace on this," Stiles shook his head slightly and watched his food. "I mean, he needs a small amount of pushing but... I don't want to go backwards. Let him get used to being in the same room as us and not freak out first," he shrugged and took a deep drink of his beer. He made a face. Somehow beer and stir fry didn't go well together.

Derek chuckled at the look on Stiles’ face. There was a reason he tended to drink water at dinner. Never ran the risk of clashing with his food. “I can agree to that,” he said, referring to Stiles' analysis of Shadow. “I’m just...” he trailed off and shrugged.

"I know," Stiles nodded slightly. "I just worry about you."

Derek blinked. “You worry about me?”

"Is that such a foreign concept?" Stiles' back straightened. "You're my friend, why wouldn't I worry about you?"

Derek looked away. “Not you, specifically, just...people in general,” he mumbled. Dammit, he hadn’t meant to do that.

"Derek, you have a ranch full of people who care about you," Stiles said firmly. There might have also been some glaring. Maybe.

Derek’s shoulders hunched. He couldn’t help it. “We pay Scott and Isaac. Not the same.” Oh god, was he ever going to get his foot back out of his mouth?

"Yeah, we pay Scott and Isaac. We pay them to feed and train dogs and be our minions. We don't pay them to give a shit. That's all their own emotions there, Derek," Stiles tried to keep the anger out of his voice, but some of it was leaking in. "I thought you'd gotten over all that bullshit."

Derek clamped down hard on the rising anger. It wasn’t Stiles' fault. It wasn’t. He wasn’t to blame for everything rising back to the surface with Shadow being here, for all of the damage done to him by-- “Yeah, well. Apparently we were both wrong,” he grit out, glaring at his plate. It was delicious, but he was suddenly not hungry any more.

"Derek," Stiles leaned forward and rest his elbows on the table. "Talk to me, please. You don't have to pretend nothing's wrong with me."

Derek wanted to. He wanted to let it all out, get the poison out of his soul, have Stiles hold him, kiss him, sooth it all away... but he couldn’t get that poison all over Stiles. He couldn’t let Stiles be touched by his darkness. “Memories,” he choked out, and stood, carrying his plate to the counter where he started rooting around for a container.

"You had like four bites of that steak," Stiles pointed out as he shifted in his chair to keep his eye on Derek. He got out of his chair and pushed Derek away from the cabinet, closing it. "Derek," he said the name firmly. "You need to breathe before you give yourself an aneurysm."

Derek sucked in a sharp breath. He hadn’t even been aware he was holding his breath, or at least suppressing it to the most basic shallow functions. “Every time I think I’m past it, it bites me on the ass,” he hissed.

"And why is it biting you now?" Stiles planted himself in front of Derek. "This isn't about Shadow and Rex, is it."

Damn him. Damn his fucking perceptive, astute ass. Derek dragged in another long breath. “No, it’s not about the dogs. Not... not really.” He fought against himself, against the instinct to give in to Stiles, give him everything he asked for and sink to his knees and beg for absolution and love, and the instinct to run, take his darkness and poison away from Stiles.

"Then why is it making with the ass biting right now, Derek?" Stiles didn't move. He wasn't going to back down. Derek had to have this out because he didn't like what it was doing to him. He didn't like it stealing that stupid smile off his face.

Something inside Derek snapped at the pressure, Stiles refusal to back down. “Because I’m in love with you,” he snarled. And immediately wished he could bite off his tongue.

It took Stiles a moment to process. At first he thought he'd misheard Derek but the look on Derek's face told him that he definitely hadn't misheard anything. Well then. That wasn't entirely what he was expecting. But wasn't it? He'd been spending so much time thinking about Derek's smile. He realized he was staring and looked away. Then realized that that was the crappiest thing he ever could have done. "Derek," he stumbled all over the name.

Derek winced. He couldn’t help it. He knew this was a bad idea. He knew it. He was going to lose the best friend he ever had and his partner and the ranch and- ”I’ll go,” he said roughly. He’d bunk with Isaac and Scott tonight. “Doesn’t have to change anything on the ranch.” He boxed up his dinner, not looking at Stiles.

"Go?" Stiles frowned. "You're not going anywhere. I'm... I'm going to go for a walk. Just..." he had started to walk away then turned back to Derek. "...don't go near Shadow if you're still upset, okay?" he turned again and rushed out. Shit!

Derek let his head rest against the door of the fridge once he’d put his dinner in there. Fuck. Stiles not only ran away, but had felt the need to remind him not to go around Shadow like he was. He had fucked up. Big time.

"And then I walked out the door," Stiles spread his hands helplessly and looked at the ball of dark fur looking at him from the crate. "I know, I know, dumb move," he nodded and leaned back against the wall. "I'm judging me too, Shadow. Totally with the judging and with the what the hell was I even thinking and with the walking out and I'm such an idiot," he let his head drop forward.

The dog let out a soft sigh, and watched him. Stiles counted this as disgust in his actions. “It’s not like I don’t reciprocate. I mean. I think I do? I definitely...there’s something there? I just. I couldn't deal, but I knew he had to stay but I knew we couldn’t both stay so I left. And it was dumb. But now I don’t know what to do.”

There was a long moment of awkward silence where Stiles stared at a spot on the carpet and practically willed it to give him all the answers he sought. He was the one who had pushed Derek. So, why was he the one hiding out? But was he hiding out? No, he was spending some quality time with his bud Shadow. Some quality... across the room from each other and one sided conversation time. At least the food bowl was empty and Derek's dinner wasn't collateral damage. "So, you like the pork and not the chicken, got it," he nodded to the dog. "Too bad life's not that simple."

Shadow stared at him. Stiles shook his head slowly. “What am I going to do?” he asked.

Shadow stood slowly and crept out of his cage. He didn’t go far, just two steps out, but it was out.

Stiles didn't move. He didn't move and he didn't show any signs of the excitement those two steps brought because wow that would be counterproductive. "You're right," Stiles rubbed his hand over his face. "I need to go to him. I need to... talk to him, apologize. I dunno... I just... talk to him."

Derek wasn’t hiding. No. He absolutely wasn’t hiding. He just had to go and check all the fencelines for the ranch. Just because it took him all day and he didn’t roll back up to the barn until just before dinner didn’t mean anything. Nope.

Just call him Cleopatra.

He threw the truck into park and looked up to see Stiles leaning against the side of the barn. His eyes couldn't help but follow the long lines of Stiles' body, how one leg crossed casually over the other, and how he was trying to put on an air of nonchalance. Derek knew better. Stiles wouldn't have been just standing out there for no reason. And now he didn't want to get out of the truck. Dammit.

Derek took a long, deep breath. He had to do this, right? He couldn’t avoid Stiles forever. Even if he wanted to. He opened the car door, taking another deep breath, and got out. Stiles was going to come for him. What errand could he make up? Maybe going to get chicken wire for the new coop...?

Stiles watched him. He watched Derek taking his time closing the door and watched as his friend's brain was churning with what he assumed were excuses to run. He couldn't blame him really. Stiles had run himself but this was getting out of hand. Maybe if he started out with a safe topic? "So, the mailman came all the way up here today to let us know we didn't get any mail. How weird is that?"

Well that was...unexpected. “Why would he do that?” Derek asked, thrown. “Oh...wait, did he want to see Tallulah again?” Tallulah was the name they’d given the mother of the seven Rocky Horror puppies. She had been out in the yard, taking a break one day, not long after the puppies had been born, when the mailman came. It had been love at first sight.

"I think he's more anxious than we are for those puppies to be weaned," Stiles laughed. He crossed his arms over his chest and tapped his fingers idly on his forearm. He kept watching Derek and tried to piece through what he was feeling. Okay so, not wanting to see Derek avoid him was definitely something he was feeling but what else was he feeling? He really liked the way Derek stuffed his hands in his pockets, like he had nowhere else to put them. "The fences all okay?"

“Had some breaks in the southeast pasture fence, but since we haven’t been out there in a few months, I’m not surprised. We need to cycle the dogs more. Different environments, new smells.” Derek shrugged his shoulders a little and smooshed his toe into a clump of dirt. It crumbled under the pressure, and he felt a curious kinship with the dust.

"We can do that," Stiles nodded. "New plants to pee on. I'm surprised we don't have to Febreeze the whole ranch," he chuckled. "Maybe we should invest in Febreeze stock."

Derek kind of squinted at him. What the hell was he doing? He didn’t know how to respond to this Stiles, and it made him twitchy and uneasy. He didn’t like it at all. “We can do it tomorrow. I’ll tell Scott and Isaac.”

"What?" Stiles blinked. "No, I meant like.. company stock.. and I was joking. Derek... you're still standing all the way over there."

Derek huffed. “I meant tell them that we’ll move the dogs,” he said, a little exasperated. And... yes. Yes, he was standing all the way over here, and he was going to continue to stand all the way over here. Because over here was safer. Over here didn’t put him within touching distance, because touching was all he wanted to do. He wanted to reach out and touch and pet and stroke and kiss and-- He shrugged again and took two deliberate steps forward. Still not close enough to touch, but closer to Stiles.

Stiles signed inwardly. He couldn't complain, he'd done this to himself. He'd run. "I was hoping we could talk. Dinner's ready," he gestured to the house with a nod of his head.

Derek’s shoulders hitched a little higher. “I should go to town, get chicken wire for your coop,” he hedged. Part of him wanted so much to go into that house and sit down with Stiles and eat dinner and talk and maybe fix them. Or at least their friendship.

Stiles' face fell. "Is that what you really want to do?" Stiles asked carefully. He didn't want to push Derek, he really didn't, but...

Derek winced inwardly. How could Stiles... How did one man manage to make Derek feel like this. “It can wait until tomorrow, I guess...I...” he looked down. Shit.

"I... I can get my own chicken wire, you know," Stiles looked off to the side. "I mean... unless you just wanted to go into town then... okay but..." he shook his head. "Dinner?"

“I promised you chickens and a coop, and I will give you chickens and a coop,” Derek said, a little more firmly than he intended. Oops. “We... we can go tomorrow? Together?” he struggled not to bite his lip. “And... yes. I’d like dinner.” Oh god, he was just a bundle of fuck ups and awkwardness. How the hell did he even function as a human being?

Stiles nodded. "I'd like that. There are a few other things I wanna get too, so.. okay.. I made chicken parm that's totally ready for us to devour and.. there might be wine."

Derek raised his eyebrow. “You made chicken parm?” he asked a little surprised. It was one of Derek’s favorite meals, but he rarely got it because it could be a little labor intensive. And wine, too. Wow. “Thank you.”

"Yeah," Stiles could feel his cheeks flushing a little and was glad that it was getting dark and Derek couldn't see. "I even baked it a little in the oven so the cheese browned," he didn't add the 'just the way you like it' to the end of that.

Derek bit his lip, and decided that...yeah, he could close the distance between them. “Thank you,” he said again, once he was closer to Stiles. “For making that. And....” he trailed off and bit his lip again. What he wanted to do was kiss Stiles. Thank him for making the effort. But he was afraid to. Because Stiles had already run once, and what was stopping him from doing it again?

Stiles was watching him, saw the traces of the inner struggle show on Derek's face. "Come on," he pushed away from the side of the barn. "You'll feel better after you have some food in you and we'll talk."

Derek followed Stiles up to the house, lost in his own thoughts. Stiles had hurt him when he’d run the night previous. Really hurt him. It took monumental effort for Derek to open up to anyone, especially to admit to a thing like being in love. Stiles knew about Kate, knew about the emotional damage she had done. He knew all of the things that made Derek not function properly some days. And he’d still run.

But. He’d also made Derek’s favorite meal, and Derek kind of got the impression that it was an apology. A way to say “hey, I fucked up, and I’m sorry I fucked up, could we talk?” without saying the words. Though, really, asking Stiles not to say any words was kind of laughable, as was evidenced by him actually asking to talk. Point was... he was apologizing. Trying. He was doing this, and... well, maybe it wasn’t so bad? Or at least could be not as painful as most things seemed to be when it came to emotional well being.

“Smells good,” Derek said when they finally got into the house. “Really good.”

"Thanks," Stiles threw a lopsided smile at him and opened the oven where their dinner was keeping warm. He grabbed the towel that hung from the handle to the oven door and took the tray out, setting it down on the burners on top of the stove. He'd already set the table and the last thing to do was dish out the awesomeness in front of him and open the bottle of wine. "Just a warning," he came around to put a trivet on the table then the chicken parm on top of it, "I am horrible at wine picking so I hope Shiraz is okay?"

“Shiraz is fine,” Derek said quietly, washing his hands at the sink before settling down at the table. He served them both carefully, adding extra sauce to Stiles’ pasta the way he knew the other man liked, and then settled in to eat. “So. Uhm. What did you do today?” he asked, realizing that he didn’t actually know what anyone had done while he was hid--fixing the fences.

Stiles had been fiddling with the corkscrew until he finally managed to get the damn thing to grip the cork. He looked up briefly as he turned the screw. "Not much," he admitted with a soft chuckle. "Spent some time with Shadow before starting to work on dinner and a little on the ledgers. Then helped Frick and Frack with the evening feeding," the cork pulled out with a pop and he set it down on the side. Stiles poured wine into each of their glasses then took a sniff of it, pretending he had any clue what wine connoisseurs did.

Derek smothered his smile. “Let it breathe,” he told Stiles. “Put the glass down, sit down, and eat. The wine will be ready to drink in about ten minutes.” He cut a bite of the chicken, and let out a soft breath of joy. Perfection. “How’s Shadow? Did he eat today?”

"Ten minutes?" Stiles was not amused. "What's the point then!" he sighed but did as Derek said, leaving the wine to sit there. He cut into his own chicken and swirled a ton of the mozzarella around the piece. "The whole bowl," Stiles informed. "He likes the pork apparently. The chicken didn't go so well. I'm gonna try eggs tomorrow."

Derek snorted. “Technically, wines should breathe for twenty minutes to half an hour, but ten’ll work. You could taste it now and again then, and see what the difference is.” He ate some more chicken, considering the report on Shadow. “Is this still the people grade food you’re giving him, or is this the stuff that Allison suggested?”

"I'm mixing it," Stiles shoved a huge piece of chicken into his mouth and talked around it. "It's 90% the food she gave us though, and I add in the extra for the taste," he shrugged. "He went right for the pork."

“That’s encouraging,” Derek said, trying to figure out why Stiles talking around a mouthful of chicken was endearing. “It means that we may be able to shift him fully to dog food. I like that.” He looked up at Stiles, through his lashes, because he really wasn’t sure how to deal with the other man just yet. “You’ve done a great job with him.” Better than I have. I’ve been afraid to go near him, just in case my...everything messed him up.

Stiles swallowed his mouthful then took a sip of water. "He needs us to not give up on him," he said softly. "Derek..." he set his fork down and rubbed his hands on his knees. "About last night... when I... when I walked out..." For someone who never had a problem opening his mouth, how was this so hard?
Derek’s shoulders tensed. “It’s okay,” he said, not looking at Stiles. If he looked at Stiles, Stiles would see the truth. “It doesn’t have to mean anything.” Except for how it meant everything.

"No," Stiles leaned back so suddenly that the chair creaked when he hit the back of it. "It's not okay. It's not okay for me to walk away from anything you say to me. I walked out because I was just... confused. So. Fucking. Confused. And not about what you said, because that was so insanely clear, but because I'm a mess and an asshole."

Derek sighed. “It’s...well. No, that’s not okay. That hurt, I can’t lie because I know you’ve figured out that much already.” He hadn’t exactly been subtle. He didn’t know how to say anything about it that was rational, though. “It’s. It’s okay, if you don’t feel...”

"That's just it," Stiles rolled his fork so it clanked against the side of the plate. "I do feel, I just.. I'm not 100% sure what it is I feel."

“...the same. If you don’t feel the same.” Derek’s stomach sank into his toes. He knew it. He’d ruined this, and he’d messed up the best thing in his life, the ranch, and the best relationship of his life, his friendship with Stiles, all because he’d--he was a fuck up, and he needed to just. Stop. He ate slowly, savoring this because he somehow felt like it was the last time Stiles was going to make the effort for him. He didn’t deserve it, why should his friend do it? He sipped the wine and twirled his fork in the pasta, and just worked on breathing.

"That's what I'm trying to say, Derek," Stiles watched him. "I might feel the same."

Derek blinked up at him. “Wait, really?”

Stiles stopped playing with his fork and instead folded his hands on the table in front of him. "Well yeah. For the past few weeks I've been trying to figure out why you smiling is so important to me. I've... been talking to a wall trying to figure things out and then last night, with what you said I just..." Stiles stopped and took a breath. "Look, you know me well enough by now. You know that all this crap spews out of my mouth and I can deal with the world ending but when it has to do with me, I kinda put it on the back burner and forget about it until it causes a problem. Well, last night I caused a problem."

Derek stared at him, trying to sift through the Stiles speak for the meanings. It wasn’t hard; for once, Stiles wasn’t obfuscating. That made it harder to fathom, almost, because...well why? How? “You made my favorite dinner, and poured wine, even though it’s not your thing, even though you’d rather have a beer,” Derek said slowly. He watched Stiles’ eyes, because stiles could never hide anything in his eyes. It was his biggest tell. “Did you do it on purpose, or did you start it without knowing?”

"I started with the chicken. Then I was breading the chicken. Then it was supposed to be Chicken Francaise but it didn't feel right so there was cheese and sauce and then browning the cheese, that I did do on purpose. The wine just made sense and... and I'm rambling."

So it was kind of both, which... didn’t tell Derek jack shit. So much for that theory. “It means the world to me that you’d go that far,” he said. "Even if... that you made the effort tonight, whatever else happens...” He winced. “That sounds... bad. Cheesy.” He looked down at his plate and twirled his noodles.

Stiles tried a smile and it came easily enough. Though it always came easy, maybe that was the point? He pushed the grated parmesan closer to Derek in an attempt to add to the pun.

Derek snorted. “Cute,” he said. How was this supposed to work, though? He felt like an ass, asking if they could date, but...wasn’t that kind of what he needed to do? He just... “I don’t know what to do now,” he confessed.

"Do we have to make a conscious effort to do anything?" Stiles asked. "Can't we just... keep going and see where things go?"

“Well... yeah,” Derek said slowly. “But... I really wanted to kiss you last night, and...” Could he fucking finish a sentence? It was starting to drive him a little batshit.

"Oh," Stiles nodded. Was he ready for that? Was he ready for if he was not ready for that? Would it put a smile on Derek's face? And now he was staring at said lips which probably tasted like his grandmother's not so secret tomato sauce recipe. He groaned inwardly at all the mixed messages he was probably transmitting at the moment.

“If you’re not ready, that’s fine,” Derek tried to reassure him. “I’m just. I'm really badly trying to tell you how I feel.” He sighed and ran his hand through his hair as the other reached for his wine. “So fucking bad at this.”

“I dunno," Stiles licked his lips, "I think you're being quite clear how you feel. I just don't want to accidentally make a promise I can't keep."

“I don’t feel like I’m being clear,” Derek admitted, unable to keep his eyes off Stiles mouth when he licked his lips. “I feel like I'm fucking everything up. Like usual.” He shook his head. “It’s...the most important thing to me is that we don’t lose our friendship or our partnership. If you don’t want to... If that’s all you want, that’s fine. I’ll adjust.”

That snapped Stiles out of whatever he was thinking, which at that moment had been trying to put a name to the color of Derek's eyes. "Derek. That is something I can promise you. I can promise you that nothing will ever come between our friendship and this ranch. Okay?"

Derek took a deep breath. He nodded. He wished he could believe whole heartedly, with no reservations, but his past history... “Okay,” he said, cutting off that line of thinking.

"I don't make promises I can't keep," Stiles tried to reinforce that. Why was this so hard? He was going to have to do something crazy. Something crazy and that Derek would never expect and now his mind was churning. He would plan it all later. For right now though he had to break this tension. "How low class would it be if I put ice in this wine?"

Derek couldn’t stop the laugh. “Less than you think, and I’d never tell.” He took a sip, and smirked. “The parm is amazing.”

"Why thank you," Stiles grinned and got up, going over to the freezer to pull out a tray of ice cubes. He cracked the lot then dropped a bunch of them into his wineglass. "Well, look to the heavens and thank my grandmother."

Derek snorted. “Her recipe?” he asked, taking another big bite. It really was amazing. One of the best versions he’d ever had. It made him happy. And not just because it was delicious. He sternly put the kibosh on that particular thought train. He wasn’t going to push. That wasn’t fair.

"Yeah," Stiles smiled softly and took a sip of his wine. "My dad found a bunch of her recipes all neatly organized in a box when he was cleaning out the attic. He thought I'd like them, so..."

“Is that where you get most of the meals you cook?” Derek asked.

"A lot of them yeah," Stiles dumped more parmesan cheese on top of his pasta. "Using her recipes makes me think of her and my mom, ya know?"

Derek nodded. He understood. When it was his turn to cook, he used a lot of the family recipes that made him feel closer to his family. “There’s something about the comfort of food to make you feel close,” he noted, and took another bite of chicken. It was almost gone, and that made him sad.

"I found this recipe online for doggie meatloaf," Stiles looked up from his pasta. "Was pondering trying it for the finicky eaters. Is that going too far?"

Derek considered. “Maybe, but at the same time... maybe not? I’d hate to lose a dog because he couldn’t or wouldn’t eat what we gave him. Though, that’s going to be an extra expense that we’d have to budget for. Maybe try the new food first, see how that goes over?”

"Yeah, you're right," Stiles licked his fork. "Chopped meat is expensive. Not going to stop feeding your dinner to Shadow though," he teased.

Derek gave him a flat look. “Which means you’re going to keep giving me yours. All you’re doing is depriving yourself. Well done, Stiles.”

"Hey, that stir fry last night was delicious," Stiles scoffed. "Not depriving myself of anything."

Derek grinned.

“And then we went for a walk, and it was really nice. She smells like vanilla, I love it. She smells so good...” Scott said dreamily.

Derek growled, trying to shove the last bag of kibble up on top of the rest. “Scott, I don’t really care what she smells like...”

"Like a french vanilla or more like a vanilla bean?" Stiles asked from where he was perched on a bale of hay. "Cause if she smelled like a bean that'd be totally awkward. Could you imagine telling her she smelled like a bean? Wow, Scott."

Isaac snickered and gave a little push to keep that top bag of kibble from toppling over the whole stack.

“Like french vanilla,” Scott said, totally oblivious to anything. He had a dog chewing on his shoelaces, and he didn’t notice at all. He was filling one of the food bins from a bag, and it had stopped pouring a minute previous, and he still held the bag upside down.

Derek managed to get the bag on the top of the stack, and turned around to stare at Scott. “Does she smell like french vanilla ice cream?” he asked sarcastically.

"Why do they even call it that?" Stiles made a face. "Do they make it in France? Didn't think it'd stay frozen on a slow boat from France."

Isaac snickered.

Scott blinked. “Huh?”

Derek shook his head. “Scott...you need new shoe laces.”

Scott looked down, and made a sound of dismay. “Nooooo,” he cried, reaching down to pull the dog away from his feet. “Not cool, Cassidy!”

“Don’t exactly blame her,” Derek said. “You won’t shut up.” He went to the stall where Tallulah and her puppies were, and opened the gate. The now five week old puppies tumbled out, followed by their mother, who made a beeline for the water trough.

"Come here, Cassidy, I'll shower you in love, and save you from the mean Scott," Stiles patted the spot on the bale next to him, and the Jack Russell jumped up. He kissed the top of the dog's head, then tried to avoid her tongue. "Were those laces yummy? I bet they were," he scratched behind her ears. The dog rolled over for belly rubs, saved from falling off the bale completely by Stiles’ hand holding her in place. He shook his head with a laugh and pushed her further from the edge.

Isaac laughed as Magenta and Riff headed straight for his legs and started yipping and bouncing up against them. “Hi guys,” he said quietly, reaching down to pet them. “Go get some water with your mom.” As they bounded away, he straightened. “Have you called the sheriff about those three yet, Derek?”

Derek shook his head. “No, haven’t had a chance. Need to, though. Now that we’ve finally gotten them to accept basic commands, they need to go.”

"I can call my dad if you want," Stiles watched Cassidy jump down from the bale then jump on Scott who had knelt down to fix his shoe laces. Stiles snickered at Scott's protests and called the dog back to him. "Cassidy, come on. I know you love Scott but he has a girlfriend," he stretched that last word out in a singsong voice. The dog barked, voicing her discontent about that, and leaped back toward Scott.

Scott groaned and gave in, plopping down on the ground to let the dog into his lap. She immediately inhabited it and did her best to lick the skin off his cheeks. “You’re ridiculous,” he mumbled, trying to keep his mouth out of the way of her flying tongue. He also flicked off Stiles. “And so are you. I don’t have a girlfriend. I mean. We go on dates, but I haven’t asked if... I mean...”

“Oh my god, you’re killing me,” Derek said. He looked over at Stiles. “If you wanna do it, go ahead. The sooner those three are out of here and doing something they’re good at, the better.” He started cleaning the stall, nodding to Isaac when he came over to help.

"You're making it sound like I don't want to call my dad," Stiles laughed nervously. "Totally not the case," he stood up and brushed off his jeans. Totally wasn't. "I'll go get on that."

Derek eyed him as he walked off. Well, that was encouraging. He looked at Isaac, who looked worried. “He’ll be okay,” Derek said, trying to reassure. “He’s just... stressed.”

Isaac snorted. “You could say that,” he said. “I’m not blind. No, I’m not Scott. I’ve been paying attention to what’s going on. You two will get there, but it’s going to take him awhile, and he knows his dad will see through him in a heartbeat. So, of course he doesn’t want to call his dad.”

Derek stared at Isaac. “Really? You...really?”

Isaac snorted. “And they call Scott oblivious.”

“So, they’re almost weaned,” Derek said, leaning over the side of the stall. The puppies were dancing around. “They’re almost weaned, the other dogs have gone to your father for police dog training, and you say that Shadow’s doing really well. He still hides when I go in there, so...”

"You need to start spending more time in the room," Stiles sat in the stall with the puppies. He flipped one of the puppies over when they'd done a summersault. "You don't have to do anything," he looked up at Derek. "Read a book or take a nap or..." he shrugged, not willing to admit to just how much chatting he did at the poor dog. Surprisingly enough the conversations weren't as one sided as he initially thought.

“I’m....” Derek sighed. This was Stiles. He could say this. “I’m afraid I’m going to hurt him with my own pain,” he said, watching Janet lay on top of her mother and chew her ear. “Not on purpose, but just...be too much for him.”

"I think..." Stiles started slowly, watching Derek carefully. "That spending time with him will help with that."

Derek sighed. “You’re probably right,” he admitted. “I’ll make the effort. You have to tell me if he’s regressing, though. I don’t want to hinder his recovery. He’s been doing amazingly well.”

"I'll keep a close eye on him, I promise," Stiles ran his fingers over Brad when he crawled into his lap. "You need to cuddle something," Stiles picked Brad up and held the puppy up to Derek. "You need to cuddle this puppy and just let him love you."

Derek chuckled softly, and let himself into the stall. He took Brad and sat down next to Stiles, letting the puppy lick his chin. “Who would ever want to hurt something like this?” he asked softly, cradling the warm, wriggly body against him. It was a rhetorical question, one that they’d asked each other time and again, and one they just didn’t have an answer to. The warmth of Brad, and just being near Stiles helped so much.

Stiles ran his hand over Tullulah's back as he watched Derek. "You ever think of having a pet dog. For yourself?"

Derek scritched at Brad’s ruff. “Sometimes,” he said softly. “I love all of our dogs, and some of them... they stay here for life, so it’s kind of like they’re our pets.”

"Yeah... but we don't like... sleep with those dogs in our bed," Stiles pointed out.

“Which is where the sometimes comes in,” Derek said, and then realized what Stiles said. His hand went still on Brad’s fur, and he raised his eyes slowly to look at Stiles.

Stiles frowned. "What... do I have something on my face?" he scrubbed his cheeks then ran a hand over his mouth just in case. Derek was still looking at him. Did he say something bad? Oh god, what had he said. "If you're secretly a cat person, that's okay, Derek."

“You...” Derek forced his eyes away. They dropped to Columbia who was bouncing in circles, trying to get their attention. She was adorable. “You said our bed.”

Stiles thought about that for a moment. Of course that's what would be focused in on. But the thought wasn't entirely a bad one. "Grammatically nothing else made sense after I started that sentence," he rubbed his face again, just in case.

Derek didn’t say anything, just focused again on the feel of Brad cuddled in against his chest. The puppy was starting to get sleepy, and was making sleepy puppy sounds. It was incredibly soothing. “It’s all right,” he said quietly. “It just...made me stop.”

Stiles looked at the puppy then back at Derek then thought what the hell. He licked his lips, figured faster was better than never and leaned in to kiss Derek.

Derek made a soft sound of surprise as Stiles’ nose bumped his own, and lips landed somewhere west of his, but it was there, and oh, wow, Stiles was kissing him. He automatically turned his head to align their noses, pressing their mouths together, and there it was. It was chaste, as far as kisses went, Stiles’ lower lip barely caught between his own, Derek’s eyes closed, nothing else touching.

Stiles was surprised at how okay he was with this. This kissing. This kissing of Derek. It was nice and Derek's lips were surprisingly soft. And he found that he liked the kissing of Derek's surprisingly soft lips. He pulled back enough to breathe and opened his eyes. "Wow."

Derek curled in tight, inside, protecting this feeling. He wanted to cherish it forever, protect it from the darkness of the rest of him. “Wow is a good word,” he breathed, pulling back far enough to see Stiles’ face. “Because... wow.”

"Why didn't I do that three weeks ago?" Stiles couldn't stop staring at Derek's lips. Derek's soft lips. He kissed him again, this time having better aim. Still just as soft. He hadn't imagined it.

Derek made another embarrassing sound, that would have been called a whimper by a different man, and struggled not to pull Stiles full into his lap. The scent of Stiles filled his nose, even around the dogs crawling all over them. This was what he wanted, what he needed. His tongue darted out before he could stop it, tracing very gently along Stiles’ lower lip. Just a feather light tease, but somehow, it made Derek’s whole body hum.

Stiles echoed the motion, licking at Derek's lips too. Oh god, why didn't he do this sooner. His heart was racing and it kind of felt nice. Nice that a kiss could do that, that kissing Derek could do that. It made him happy. Happier than hugging puppies made him, and that was pretty damn happy. He pulled back enough to take a breath.

Derek reached up one hand that wasn’t quite steady, and stroked Stiles cheek with his finger tips. “For what it’s worth,” he started, and then had to clear his throat because wow hoarse. “For what it’s worth, I’m glad we waited, if this is the result.”

"I really like this result," Stiles' voice was breathy under no control of his own. "Derek..."

Derek didn’t want to hear anything negative right now, needed to have Stiles in this moment, not in the past or in the future or... “Stiles,” he said softly. “Shut up.” He kissed Stiles again, shifting until he was more comfortable. He moved Brad, too, shifting the puppy to his lap so he could have both hands to cradle Stiles’ face. He gently, very gently, scraped his teeth cross Stiles’ bottom lip, and followed with his tongue to soothe.

Stiles was moaning, his head tilting slightly to feel more of Derek's hands against his skin. They were strong hands and the calluses on Derek's fingers were rough against his skin. He found himself suddenly wondering how those hands felt elsewhere.

The sounds Stiles was making. Fuck. Derek took his time and explored what other things he could do with his mouth and his fingers not moving any lower than Stiles’ neck to get him to make that sound again. He eventually had to pull back for air, resting his forehead against Stiles’, and panting lightly. “No regrets?” he asked softly.

"No regrets," Stiles shook his head, his forehead rolling back and forth against Derek's. He took a deep breath in an attempt to control his own breathing. The fact that he couldn't breathe was a good thing, though. "Absolutely none."

Derek smiled a little, gave him another chaste kiss, and leaned back fully. “We should get up and have dinner,” he said quietly. “I put beef stew in the crock pot this morning.”

"That's making me hungry just thinking about it," Stiles laughed and freed himself of all the puppies that had crawled into his lap.

Derek pushed Brad gently off his lap, untangled Magenta from his shoelace, and stood, pulling Stiles up with him. He kept his fingers tangled with Stiles’, once they had the stall locked, on the slow walk toward the house. “Is this okay?” he asked softly. Stiles wasn’t pulling away, so he assumed it was, but he felt compelled to check.

Stiles moved his fingers slowly against Derek's. He wasn't freaking out, that was a good sign. He wasn't freaking out and he hadn't even thought about the hand holding until Derek pointed it out. All of these were good things in Stiles' mind. "It's okay," he reassured Derek.

Derek smiled at the ground. Yeah, okay. This would work. They hit the house, and he let go of Stiles’ hand reluctantly. "I’m gonna go wash up and check on Shadow,” he said. He hesitated for a moment, but decided in for a penny, in for a pound, and leaned in to gently kiss Stiles again.

Happy chills ran up Stiles' spine and his hands came up to grip Derek's arms to keep him from pulling away too quickly.

Derek could see where all of this could quickly get out of hand and they would never make it as far as dinner. “Stiles,” he groaned, pulling Stiles close and wrapping his arms around him. He buried his face in Stiles’ neck, and just held on for a moment.

Stiles' rest his chin on Derek's shoulder and wrapped his arms around Derek's waist. This felt good. It felt nice to have Derek's warmth against him, holding him. Really, really nice.

Derek slipped into the room once he’d scrubbed up, and settled down in the middle of the room, facing Shadow’s crate. “Hey boy,” he said softly, watching the dog still inside the safe spot he’d nested himself in. “Sorry I haven’t been in to see you. I’ve been... worried. I didn’t want to hurt you or make things worse for you. It wasn’t fair of me, but I guess there wasn’t anything I thought I could do. Stiles said I should come see you, though. He’s right.” He smiled a little, and looked down at his hands. He could still feel Stiles’ long fingers laced in with his.

“He’s always right,” Derek said softly. He heard movement, and looked up to see Shadow getting up and slowly creeping out of his crate, staying to the edges of the room, but actually out and moving in his presence. His breath caught in his chest, but he deliberately restrained himself from moving. “Thing is, he’s been right about most things for a long time. It takes me...far too long to figure it out most things that he figures out in about a minute of hard thinking. He’s got you figured out, for sure.”

Derek watched Shadow nose the water bowl before taking a drink. “I wish that it was that simple,” he told the dog, who started sniffing around the edges of the room. He never got very close to Derek, but he was moving. “I don’t know how to act around him. I love him. He knows I love him, we’ve talked about this. I don’t know how to be around him like this, though, when I can’t... reach out and touch the way I want. And God, what if I hurt him? What if I do or say something that hurts him?”

Stiles leaned his head against the wall right outside the door. He was sitting on the floor, his head tilted back to look at the ceiling and he knew he shouldn't still be there. Knew he shouldn't be eavesdropping but he had gone to check on them then heard Derek talking and yeah, he was a horrible dropper of eaves. And now Stiles was staring at the ceiling thinking about all the ways he could possibly get hurt and started considering whether or not the hurt was worth it.

Derek slowly stretched out on the floor, carefully not making any moves that might startle Shadow. “I would never intentionally hurt him, but I’m so full of scars. So fucked up. Kate destroyed me, and then... I shut down. I never really was willing to open back up. So, I never figured out how to love again. And then there’s Stiles. Who makes me ache with how beautiful and amazing he is.” Derek played back everything he’d just said. “I sound like an idiot,” he told the dog, who glanced at him, snorted, and went back to his investigations. “Those kisses, in the barn...I’ve never felt anything like that before. And holding his hand, touching him, all of it’s like I was made just to be with him. Which is weird, right? That’s a weird thing?”

Stiles shook his head. Definitely not a weird thing. And he came with his own set of scars. Granted, not in the same vein as what Kate had done or even as severe, but there was still loss. Stiles didn't know where the feeling came from, but he felt that he was never going to lose Derek in this sense though. Derek and he had something awesome, they had the ranch. The ranch would keep them together even if other things didn't, right?

Derek sighed and rolled over, watching Shadow investigate a pillow that had fallen off the couch. “I love him. I love him so much it hurts, and the absolutely last thing I want to do is hurt him. So, while part of me is pushing me toward him, part of me is screaming run before you infect him.”

Shadow looked up at him, studied him, and then tugged the pillow forward an inch or two before carefully curling up on it. Considering it was not the biggest throw pillow they had on the couch, that was somewhat of a feat, but he got himself all tucked into a ball. His head stayed up, and Shadow kept watching Derek.

Derek got the feeling that the dog was trying to tell him something. “You think I should stay put?” he asked softly. “You’re probably right. Not that I could leave, even if I really wanted to. This ranch is my life, and it would kill me to leave it. If I can’t have anything else with Stiles, I can have this ranch, and that would be enough.”

Stiles got up, trying to make as little noise as possible. It didn't sound like Derek was getting up just yet but he didn't want to get caught listening in. That would be... really bad, especially given how he would feel himself if he had found out someone was listening in on him when he was talking to Shadow. He hurried to the kitchen to busy himself with setting the table.

Derek studied the distance between himself and the dog, and considered for a moment. Then, very slowly, he stretched his hand out across the floor. He stopped a short distance away from Shadow on the pillow, watching carefully. Shadow’s ears were back and his head was low, like he was expecting a blow, but when Derek just waited, and didn’t move, he slowly raised his head. Watching Derek, he slowly, achingly slowly, stretched out his nose and sniffed at Derek’s hand. He pulled his head back, then, and tucked it down against his paws, but Derek was beside himself.

He took a deep breath and shifted just a fraction closer. He carefully raised his hand, careful to move slowly and never let it move out of Shadow’s line of sight, until he could slide a gentle hand over the top of the dog’s head. Shadow’s cringe and flattened out ears didn’t change, and Derek stopped after a couple of strokes, but it was enough for both of them, he thought. He slid slowly back across the floor so that he was by the door when he stood up. He left, and hurried into the kitchen. “He let me pet him!”

Stiles jumped at the outburst and thanked god he wasn't holding anything because it would have ended up on the floor. "He did?" his face lit up. "That's amazing. That's more than amazing. What's a word that means more than amazing? Awesome? Awesomely amazing? What did he do?"

“I slid my hand across the floor, so he could sniff it, which... he did. Eventually. It took him some time, but I waited him out. And then I patted his head. I moved as slowly as I could, and he let me, and he didn’t run back to his cage. As far as I know, he’s still laying on the pillow on the floor. But he let me pet him!” Derek was beaming like an idiot, but he didn’t care.

"Told you going in there was a good idea," Stiles grinned and risked taking the glasses out of the cabinet. "And you were worried."

Derek snorted, waiting until Stiles had set the glasses down before he wrapped his arms around Stiles’ waist and pressed his face against his neck. “Thank you,” he murmured. “For convincing me to go for it.”

"Any time," Smiles replied softly, hand coming up to rub Derek's back in slow circles. He could already feel a huge release in the amount of tension that was in Derek's shoulders before. It brought a smile to his face. "I'm glad it helped."

Derek kissed Stiles’ neck and slowly released him. “It helped all of us, I think,” he said. “We all needed to have this.” He smiled slightly. “Not that I needed to make sense,” he said, and went to pull the crock out of the slow cooker, and carry it to the table. A basket of bread and the butter followed, and it didn’t take them long before they were seated and eating.


*~

"You are totally awesome by the way," Stiles looked up from his book and watched Shadow explore the side of the room closest to the windows. "In like 5 minutes, you totally got him smiling, which is like a record or something. Or it should be if it isn't." He set his book down on his lap and narrowed his eyes. "But how come you won't let me pet you? Well, guess I haven't exactly tried," he shrugged slightly.

Isaac came into the kitchen, intending to drop something for Derek, when he heard Stiles’ voice coming from the other room. He crept closer on silent feet, trying to figure out what was going on.

"It's totally okay, you know, for you to like Derek," Stiles continued. "I mean.. I'm not going to be jealous or anything. Though well... if he wants to pick you over me, I guess that's okay... you are awesome," Stiles nodded. "This situation would get a bit awkward though," he flicked his index finger pointing back and forth between the two of them.

Isaac frowned. Why would Derek pick anyone over anyone else? He peeked in the room, trying to figure out what was going on. He couldn’t see Stiles from where he was, but he could see the dog, nosing and sniffing as he wandered. Stiles must be talking to the dog, about Derek, but... Why would Stiles be worried about Derek picking the dog over him? Didn’t he know that Derek was in love with him?

"You're a pretty attractive dog though, so I couldn't blame him," Stiles shrugged. "I wouldn't blame me, but then again, you let him pet you so..." Shadow paused his investigation of the corner and turned his head to look at Stiles. "I know," Stiles flailed his arms before he could stop himself. Shadow didn't flinch and he took that as the amazing sign that it was. "Thank you," he watched the dog, who was still watching him, "For making him smile."

Isaac kind of thought he got it now. He stepped forward quietly and leaned against the doorway. “When are you going to tell him that you’re in love with him?” he asked very quietly.

Stiles visibly forced himself not flail with the shock of Isaac suddenly being there. Shit! "Sneaking up on people is not cool," Stiles took a deep breath and looked at Isaac. He wasn't mad. He was flaily with the surprise of it, but super flaily Stiles wasn't something Shadow needed right now. "Who says I'm in love?"

Isaac raised his eyebrow. “You’re thanking the dog for making him smile,” he pointed out. “And I’m sorry for startling you. Didn’t mean to.” He looked at Shadow who was watching him warily, but not hiding. “Wow...he’s doing tons better.”

"Yeah, I figure if he can put up with me blabbering at him, then he'll be ready for almost anything." Stiles nodded, ignoring Isaac's other comment.

Isaac noticed. “I think that he’s doing really well, healing under your care. Is this what you’ve been doing? Talking to him? I’d wondered.” He crouched down by the door, careful to keep his movements slow. Shadow didn’t come near him, but he didn’t hide, either. He did go back to investigating slowly, sniffing at the baseboards again. “He reminds me a lot of Derek.”

"Have you caught Derek sniffing the floor, Isaac?" Stiles asked curiously with just the hint of a smirk.

Isaac flashed him a grin. “Metaphorically. Derek was just as damaged as Shadow, and you’ve fixed him. You’ve made him better. He’s able to love now, and he loves you, same as I know you love him.”

Stiles took a long, slow drag of breath and let it out just as slowly. "I don't think fixed is a good word for it. You can't fix people like you can fix machines. But better? Yeah, he's definitely better than he was before."

“Helped, then. Gave him things he didn’t have before, and helped him heal himself. Why won’t you let yourself heal? What happened?” Isaac tilted his head curiously at his boss and his friend.

"Me?" Stiles had been watching Shadow move through the room but turned his head to look at Isaac. "Nothing happened, I'm fine. This isn't about me."

“You’re the one that won’t admit to loving Derek.”

"You make it sound like it's such an easy thing to give," Stiles looked back at Shadow who had settled down on the throw pillow he'd claimed as his own. That Shadow was comfortable relaxing while Isaac was still in the room was incredible.

“Didn’t say it was easy,” Isaac said softly. “I know how easy it isn’t. But I also know you well enough to know that you haven’t even admitted it to yourself, have you?”

"Just because I thanked a dog for making him smile doesn't mean I love him," Stiles snorted. "It's possible to care about someone's happiness without being in love with them."

“You watch him wherever he goes. You do everything in your power to make him smile, make him laugh, or just generally make him feel good. You’re constantly making his favorite meals, no matter how involved they are. You get fidgety when you haven’t seen him for a while,” Isaac ticked the points off on his fingers. “Stiles... I don’t know what it is that makes it so hard for you to admit it, but you love him.”

"I don't get fidgety, that's ridiculous. I'm naturally fidgety," Stiles protested, but Isaac was telling the truth. Stiles liked having Derek around and when he wasn't he just felt lonely. This was dangerous ground. He shouldn't need Isaac to point out his own feelings but... He sighed. "It's not the admitting that's the problem," he closed his book and set it down on the floor beside him so he could bend his knees.

Isaac let himself slide fully to the floor, giving Stiles his space. “Then what’s wrong?” he asked as gently as he could.

"It's the part that comes after," Stiles admitted quietly. "The after and the down the line and the..." Stiles moved his hand further away from him in an attempt to denote the passage of time, or... something. He pulled his hand back. "To be in love with someone, to give them everything. That's something I can't do, Isaac."

Isaac tilted his head. There was something to that, and he had to know what it was. “Here’s the thing about giving everything to someone you love...they give you everything back. You’re putting it all on the line, but so are they.” He studied Stiles for another moment, and took a chance. He just hoped he was right. “Your mother wouldn’t want you to be alone. She’d want you to take the chance to love.”

"Yeah, okay, we're done," Stiles got to his feet and slowed down after Shadow's head popped up. He stepped over Isaac's legs to get out of the room and shook his head at any protests that might come from Isaac. He couldn't do this right now.

Isaac sighed as Stiles left. Well, shit. On one hand, he was pretty sure that abrupt departure meant that he was right, but he’d also sent Stiles into shut down. Unhelpful at best. “Your Stiles-Daddy and your Derek-Daddy will get their shit together eventually, Shadow. I think it’s up to us to smooth the way, though.”

Across the room, Shadow thumped his tail once.

*~

"I know, you guys are going to miss your mom for all of 3 seconds when she's gone," Stiles pet all the puppies as they tried to all get in his lap at once. "Your little puppy brains just can't handle that, hmm?" He pulled Janet away from Magenta when she started chewing on the other's tail. "But your mom's going to a nice home, okay? I promise."

“Did we remember to leave the note on the mailbox?” Scott asked, skidding to a stop, panting for breath. Brad, Frank, and Columbia collided with his legs as they attempted to stop. They’d been chasing him in circles.

Derek rolled his eyes as he came out of the barn with a box that contained food, a collar and leash, and some toys, the standard kit when they did an adoption. “Yes, Scott, that’s why we know he’s coming to pick up Tallulah today. Because he got our note and said he was coming.”

“Not that note,” Scott said, straightening. “The one that Isaac and I wrote--never mind, it doesn’t matter. C’mon, guys!” And he took off at a run again, puppies chasing him with excited yips.

Derek shook his head. “You best friend mystifies me,” he told Stiles. “Also, he’s here.” He nodded at the cloud of dust approaching.

"He mystifies us all," Stiles nodded. "I'm sure the letter was filled with all the horrible things they'd do to the poor guy if he hurt Tallulah," he shrugged. "She's going to be fine. Her crazy psycho puppies are going to be fine."

“Of course she’ll be fine,” Derek said, offering his hand to Stiles to help him up. He gave Stiles a tiny soft smile and went to greet Tallulah’s new owner. It didn’t really take all that long to ship the dog off with their mail carrier. Derek was kind of entertained by how eager Tallulah seemed to be.

“She seemed really ready to go,” Isaac remarked, arms full of wriggling puppy. “I probably would be, too, even with the fact that these guys are already weaned.”

"I know," Stiles brushed the dirt off his jeans. "I always feel bad separating mothers from their pups though. And she left us to change all the diapers!" He flailed his arms a little.

"Says the one who doesn't scoop the poop," Scott let out a frustrated sound and detached a puppy from his shoe laces. "Stop!"

“You knew when you were hired that that was part of your job description,” Derek pointed out with a smirk. “I believe you were even told that Chief Pooper Scooper could be your alternate title.”

Isaac set down the dogs as the car left, and headed toward the barn. Six dogs immediately fell in line behind him, leaving him looking like a mother duck with a very odd line of ducklings.

“...why do we want any sanity around here?” Derek asked, watching the parade disappear into the barn.

"Sanity?" Stiles laughed and snapped a picture of the procession with his cellphone. "That'd be boring. Who wants boring?"

“Certainly not me,” Derek said. He leaned in and stole a quick kiss, and then strolled into the barn after Isaac.

Scott studied Stiles as Derek disappeared from view. “So, that’s a thing now,” he said, his tone nothing more than mild curiosity and interest.

"Apparently," Stiles said as he shrugged and stuffed his phone back in his pocket. "Is it... is it weird?"

Scott shrugged. "Only in that I didn’t see it happen sooner. You two have been friends and partners for a while, now. Isaac and I both noticed that you had chemistry. It’s hard to miss.”

"Chemistry's good," Stiles nodded slowly. "I'm just..." he glanced nervously at the barn. Derek and Isaac being out of view gave him a false sense of privacy. "Maybe I'm just worrying for nothing."

Scott studied him. He’d known Stiles for years, had seen what changed when his mom died, how life had shaped who he was. “If there’s anyone that’s going to be as loyal as... who is never going to leave you, it’s Derek,” he pointed out. “Same as Allison’s loyal as can be.”

Stiles shook his head and cursed his friend's ability to read him so well. Then again, Scott was the closest friend he'd ever had. He kinda wished Scott were more oblivious when it came to paying attention to details. "You've known Allison for all of 5 seconds. How can you say she's as loyal as can be?"

Scott frowned. “First, we’ve been together two months. Second, we’ve talked a lot. About her family history, mine... Like. Obviously, I don’t know her as well as we know Derek, but I can tell. Ignoring the point, though. You’re lonely.”

"I'm not lonely!" Stiles scoffed. "I have you guys, how could I possibly be lonely!" He needed to stop talking to Scott. The nail was getting pummeled as Scott kept whacking it with his perceptiveness and once it was lodged in there it'd be impossible to wedge it back out.

Scott gave him a sad look. “How many times have you spent the night with somebody? Not a sleep over, so don’t even. I mean after you had sex, how many times have you stayed?”

"What... you mean like sex with others? Look, this is getting into the dangerous territory of revealing details about my significant lack of a recent sex life so... can we just talk about something other than me?" Stiles was practically bouncing with nervous energy and he stuffed his hands in his jeans pockets to try and still himself.

Scott frowned. “I don’t know...” He stopped and bit his lip. “Stiles... Stop. Just...stop. Okay? Let yourself love. Let yourself open up and accept what’s right in front of you before you lose it because you were stupid and stubborn. I love you, man. You’re like a brother but you’re being an idiot.” He shook his head and headed toward the barn, leaving Stiles alone.

Stiles looked up at the sky and exhaled slowly out of his nose. He head back for the house. He needed an ear, a non judgy ear even though that dog was totally judging him. He could see it with every eyeroll. Hear it with every snort of breath. It was okay though, Shadow could judge him all he liked, just as long as he ate his dinner. He opened the door as quietly as he could and slipped inside. They'd been careful about just barging in after they came in one afternoon to find Shadow investigating the hallway. He rushed back into his room at the sound of the screen door slamming and it took a whole week to undo that one sound. Stiles had taken the screen door off completely.

He found Shadow sniffing around the dining room and he waited until the dog took note of him before he moved to the wall opposite the one with the door on it. He didn't want the dog to feel boxed in. "Scott called me an idiot and stubborn and he's partially right," he started talking. Shadow looked up from the corner he was investigating and sat down. This dog could double as a shrink. "Well, I'm stubborn but... stubbornness has nothing to do with why he called me an idiot."

Derek headed for the house. Scott had confessed immediately that he’d called Stiles an idiot, but not why, and Isaac had told Derek to go after him, make sure he was okay. The worried look that had coupled the demand had been enough to get Derek moving. He passed the open window on his way to the porch, and Stiles’ voice stopped him. Stubbornness wasn’t why Scott had called Stiles an idiot? He debated with himself, arguing the necessity of not eavesdropping and betraying Stiles’ trust with the need to know what happened so he could maybe fix it. Potentially fixing it won and he stopped, careful not to make any noise as he listened at the open window.

"I know why you're sitting on the other side of the room, why you keep a safe distance," he watched the dog. "I do the same thing, yet my worry isn't that the people I trust will hurt me physically. You're reluctant to open up, to fully trust us and I get that," Stiles shifted the way he was sitting, bending his legs and resting his arms over his knees. "I do the same thing and Scott sees it. He thinks it's stubbornness, but it's not. It's fear."

Derek frowned. Fear? Why was Stiles afraid? Why would he avoid things? He wanted to go in and ask, find out what Stiles was talking about, but he forced himself to stay still.

"If you saw what losing my mom did to my dad, you'd run screaming too," he said softly. "It still affects him and I..." Stiles shut his mouth, looking away from Shadow. "I'm afraid to hurt like that, afraid to even put myself in a position where that could happen."

Derek’s heart sank. Oh. Stiles wouldn’t give in because of his mom. There wasn't a whole lot that Derek could do to fight against that. Not when it was Stiles’ thought processes and convictions. Not like that. he let his head fall forward as he closed his eyes. What could he do?’

"Derek deserves someone who isn't afraid to love him back. I feel like anything I do or say makes him think I'm this horrible person and I just.. I don't know what to do, Shadow," Stiles sighed. "How do I even say anything? I wish you'd like.. bark at me or something, anything to tell me how much of an idiot I'm being."

Derek’s heart clenched. What else could he do? He loved Stiles, and knew he always would. He didn’t mind if Stiles took time, and he didn’t think that Stiles was a horrible person at all. Still...

Shadow cocked his head and took a couple of creeping steps across the room. Maybe three feet of distance, before he was sitting back down, still watching Stiles carefully.

Stiles had held his breath as Shadow made his way closer and let it out slowly when the dog stopped moving. It was definitely something. "If it's the way I smell that's keeping you from coming closer, I hate to break it to ya, but I smell like puppies and outside," he sniffed himself just to be sure. "And sunshine."

Derek had to bite his lip to keep from laughing at that. Stiles always smelled like puppies, fresh air, and sunshine. It was a good smell, and he liked it. Probably more than he should, if he was honest. He liked that it sounded like Shadow had moved closer, though. There had been the faint sound of movement, and then Stiles’ statement... yeah. That was a good thing.

"Yeah okay," Stiles slowly got himself to his feet. "You keep sniffing your way through the house and by the time you're done I'll have cleaned out the mess you've made of your crate. Sounds like an awesome plan, hmm?" He walked out of the dining room and tried to keep the frown off his face. He had way too much to think about.

Derek spun and headed back to the barn. He really didn’t want Stiles catching him eavesdropping. Not after that. Though now he had a lot to think about. A lot.

Derek clicked the device in his hand and made the hand gesture for sit. The three dogs in front of him immediately obeyed. “Good job,” he praised. “Stay,” he said, this time pairing the hand gesture with the verbal command. He backed up a dozen paces, and waited to see if any of the dogs broke. When none of them did, he used the clicker to signal to them to come to him. He was immediately stampeded by rampaging puppies, which made him chuckle. In reward, he fell to his knees and played with them a little bit, scrubbing a tummy there, scratching ears here.

“That smile’s a good look on you,” said a familiar voice; Derek looked up to see Sheriff Stilinski leaning against the fence, watching him.

“Uh. Thanks,” he said, a little thrown. “Need me to go get Stiles?”

The sheriff shrugged. “In a minute. I wanted to talk to you first, thank you for the dogs. They’re settling in really well, paired up with experienced dogs. How did you know they’d work well as police dogs?”

Derek looked down at the dogs who were now trying to tumble each other over. “They worked well by themselves. The two males were best with scenting, while the female was best with the physical lessons, so it seemed the logical jump. Where else could they scent or attack like that, and work alone?”

The Sheriff nodded. “Nice. They’re adjusting really well, like I said. I think they’re going to be some of our best dogs yet.” He studied Derek for a moment. “Son... if you don’t mind me sayin’ so, you look...”

Derek snorted. “Like crap?” he said bluntly. “Not sleeping well.”

“Why’s that?” The sheriff narrowed his eyes consideringly. “This have anything to do with my son?”

Derek shrugged, not even bothering to deny it. This was the sheriff of the county, there’s no way in hell he would succeed. The man was too good at his job. “It does. I finally... I told him...” he huffed, frustrated with himself. “I told him that I loved him.”

The sheriff blinked. “You what? Oh god, let me guess, he completely freaked out, ran off, and hasn’t been talking to you since?”

“Mostly right. That was almost two months ago. We’re talking. We’re even...maybe investigating what we could have together?” Derek offered, grimacing at the phrasing. “Why am I even telling you this?”

“Because you know that I need to have a talk with my son, and I need to be properly armed. And because you’re not a stupid man, Mr. Hale. You recognize futility when it’s staring you in the face.” The sheriff smirked and tipped his hat. “I’ll just go find my son now.”

Derek watched him leave, feeling a little like he might have betrayed Stiles, but relieved that at least it wasn’t him.

The sheriff found his son sitting on the porch, laptop on a rickety table that looked about to collapse from rust corrosion and papers strewn all over the table, his lap, and the porch around him. "Quite the filing system you have there," he said as he stopped at the foot of the steps and rolled on his heels. He took the moment to fully appreciate the view of his son actually working on paperwork.

"It's called organized chaos," Stiles said without looking up. He finished inputting the receipt that was sitting right in front of him then set it on the done pile, replacing the rock he was using as a paperweight. "It's worked quite well for me." He looked over at his father with a smile. "You want some coffee? I've got a fresh pot brewing."

"Coffee'd be great." He nodded and took the steps, following his son inside. He shook his head in amusement as he passed the mess of papers all using rocks to keep the wind from stealing them away. "Haven't heard from you in over a week so, I thought I'd come say hi," he shrugged. "You know, make sure you were still alive."

"Still alive, still kickin'," Stiles peered through the doorway that led to the hallway then continued to the counter. "Just... no sudden shouts or loud noises, okay?"

"There a reason you're so jumpy that sudden noises are a problem?" he regarded his son with a raised eyebrow.

"What? No, dad," he laughed. "I don't want you scaring the dog."

The sheriff blinked, and then realized that the dark shadow in a corner wasn’t just a shadow, it was an animal. “Since when are you bringing the dogs in the house?” he asked, slowly crouching down so that he didn’t loom. The dog didn’t move, but the eyes definitely followed him. “Wait, is this the one you were telling me about? The one so abused he wouldn’t even eat?”

"Shadow," Stiles nodded and poured two mugs of coffee. "Just ignore him and act natural and he'll relax."

His dad stood and took the coffee, studying his son’s face. “I should give Derek the same advice,” he said slowly.

Stiles frowned, clearly confused. "Okay," he said carefully. He took his mug over to the kitchen table and sat down where he could see his father and keep Shadow in his peripheral vision. "You in the advice giving mood today?"

“I think I need to be. You wanna tell me why there’s a lovesick, slightly heartbroken man over in front of the barn? The one who tells me that he loves you and you know he loves you? I thought my son was smart, but somehow, I’m thinking I misjudged that, if the way he looks is any indication. Men in love should not look that sad.” The sheriff sipped at his coffee as he spoke, watching his son for reaction.

"Sad? What do you mean sad?" Stiles frowned deeply. "He looked fine this morning. What are you talking about?" Stiles shut his mouth. His gut reaction to feeling attacked was to mouth off but this was his father and he knew Stiles better than almost anyone. "It's not that simple."

“I mean that he knows that the guy he’s in love with is going to run,” the sheriff said bluntly. “You wanna tell me what’s going on? Why it isn’t that simple?” He sipped at his coffee. “No, let me rephrase that. You’re going to tell me what’s going on, and I’m going to unfuck your head, and then you’re going to thank me and host Thanksgiving dinner this year.”

"Dad, first, you know I'd host Thanksgiving, there's no need to stuff it in there. Second, who said I was going to run? If I was going to run, I'd have done it 2 months ago. I'm still here and I'm still making chicken parm. One chat with my dad isn't going to unfuck my head."

The sheriff studied his son’s face. He could hear what Stiles wasn’t saying and wondered if it was time for that thing his wife had warned him about years ago. “Maybe not, but it might just remind you that your mother would be kicking your ass right about now.”

"And why's that?" Stiles leaned back until his hit the back of the chair. He took note of the nervous looks Shadow was giving him and if he'd realized sooner that this conversation would take this turn he'd have picked another room.

“Because you’re depriving yourself of what you want, what I think you need,” the Sheriff said, his voice still calm and even. “One of the last things your mother told me was to not let you shut down or shut people out. That’s what you’re doing, isn’t it? You’re not running, but you’re shutting him out.”

"Did she also tell you to stay away from the bottle?" Stiles slowly rotated the mug in his hands. "You shut down too, dad. I'm just trying to protect myself."

“Neither your mother nor I expected me to turn into an alcoholic, and for that, I’m so desperately sorry,” sighed the Sheriff. He looked down at his coffee mug. “I never meant to abandon you the way I did. You can’t follow my example, though. You already know how unhealthy it is.”

"Which is why I am trying to protect myself," Stiles said firmly. "If I don't put myself in the position to get hurt, I won't get hurt."

His father didn’t look up right away. “How much do you hurt right now?” he asked instead.

Stiles looked away, focusing on anything else in the room. He couldn't lie. He couldn't lie to his father and say he was fine because it had been years since his father last believed that. "Too much," he grit out.

The sheriff looked up, hurting for his son. “Why? What’s hurting you?” He heard a soft shuffling movement from the dog, but he couldn’t afford to take his eyes off his son right now. This was important.

"I know I'm hurting him, dad," Stiles said softly. "I don't want to hurt him but I'm scared."

“Hurting him is hurting you?” he asked, just for clarity. “And son...this is Derek Hale. He’s probably terrified.”

"Hurting him is killing me," Stiles whispered then sucked in breath when something leaned against his leg. He slowly looked down to see the top of Shadow's head and his back. The dog wasn't moving, just sitting there and Stiles had no idea what to do. Did he risk trying to pet him? Did he just sit still? He turned wide eyes to his father.

“Pet him,” Sheriff Stilinski said. “Touch him, give him and you both comfort. Love him, Stiles, because he needs it, and so do you.”

Stiles moved his hand slowly, more slowly than he ever thought possible and finally, when his hand touched fur, he ran his fingers gently over Shadow's side. There was no flinching. His ears moved, but they weren't pinned back to the side of his head and god this was amazing.

The Sheriff watched the play of emotions over his son’s face, and realized that he hadn’t been letting himself love the dog, either. Not that way. “I really fucked you up, didn’t i?” he asked softly.

"Dad, no," Stiles sighed. He kept his hand moving, petting Shadow gently and intending to stop only when Shadow had had enough. "I did it to myself. I did it all to myself."

“Yeah? And who’s the one that shut down when you needed him the most? Who’s the one that closed off from everything when his son needed to know that everything would eventually be okay? You can’t tell me this isn’t at least partially my fault, Stiles.” Sheriff Stilinski looked at the now empty coffee mug and sighed. “Stiles... There are some things that you just have to take chances on in life. Love is one of them. You have a man out there that would let you get away with it and do nothing but sit out there and love you from afar.

“Thing is, I'm not going to let you get away with that. Because I’m the one that showed you that love is something to be feared. Son...let that man love you. Love him back. Love this dog who is wanting so badly to be loved. Don’t let this haunt you for the rest of your life. Don’t let...” The Sheriff’s voice choked, but he forced out his words. “Don’t let cancer take your happiness, too.”

"Dad I..." Stiles quieted, not wanting to rush and say the first thing that flew out of his mouth. "I get why you did it. I get why losing her hurt so much that you just didn't want to feel anything and okay, you're right," he nodded slowly, "Seeing what it did to you... it scared the crap out of me. So, I thought hiding out in my little love free Stilesfort would work."

“How’s it going in there?” his father asked as gently as he knew how. “Comfy?”

"There's marshmallows for pillows and freshly baked pita for blankets," he shrugged. "It's deceptively comfortable and delicious all at once."

“But lonely?” the sheriff pointed out. “Let someone in to the pitas and marshmallows, kid. You never know. He may come with Cheez-Its for wall art.”

"And mix salt with sugar?" Stiles scoffed and risked scratching lightly behind one of Shadow's ears. The dog didn't pull away so he kept doing it.

“I refer you to chocolate covered pretzels,” the Sheriff said.

"You shouldn't be eating chocolate covered pretzels, but point taken," Stiles allowed. "My fort's not totally love free, you know. I mean, I love you so..."

“No. What you feel for me is...like that Greek thing your mother once read to me. You feel storge or maybe agape. You need to let eros into your life. You really do.” The sheriff gave him a long look. “Live life, Stiles. Don’t just experience it.”

"And what if I do that? What if I give everything into eros, just like Plato said, my heart... my soul.. everything. I give everything and then on the flip side what happened to you happens to me. Was it worth it, dad?"

“Yes,” the Sheriff replied immediately. “Your mother’s death...devastated me. You know that. But I wouldn’t have traded a second of my time with her, if I’d known in advance that she’d have been taken away. It was so worth it, Stiles.”

Stiles took a slow, deep breath and looked down at the dog who was still letting himself be pet. "You don't think I'm too late, do you? He hasn't given up on me right?"

His father shook his head, hiding the smile he wanted to let break free. He knew if he did, Stiles would spook, and that was unacceptable. “No, I don’t think you’re too late. I think that Derek would still be there if it took you thirty years.”

He nodded slowly and definitely felt guilty at the thought of making Derek wait that length of time. Derek shouldn't have to suffer because of his own insecurity on this. "So, what's the real reason you stopped by, dad? Can't just be to have this talk."

“Wanted to thank you for the dogs you sent to us,” the Sheriff told him. “They’re working out really well. And because I wanted to see you, because you've been avoiding me. Guess I know why, now.”

"I haven't been avoiding you," Stiles scoffed. "Just been busy with my pal Shadow here." Okay, maybe he had been avoiding his dad a little, but it wasn't entirely on purpose or anything. "I'm glad things are working out."

The sheriff shook his head with a snort. Shadow was looking a little blissed out from all the petting, if he was any judge of dog expressions. “You boys are doing a good thing here. Let yourself have more, okay?”

"Okay," Stiles nodded again.

It was a few hours after the sheriff left. It was after Stiles had sent the, “SHADOW LET ME PET HIM!!!!” text and after he’d settled back on the porch with his paper work, though he left the door open this time, just in case. If he was honest, Stiles knew he wasn’t getting much of the paperwork done. His mind was too busy with what his dad said and how far Shadow had come.

He stared at the computer screen, the invoice he'd been working on only half entered, and all he could focus on was what the hell he'd say to Derek. But then... maybe he wouldn't have to say anything to Derek. Actions speak louder than words and maybe he could just concentrate on figuring out how to apologize in actions. For someone who normally had no trouble opening his mouth and spewing words out, why was this so hard?

He was so lost in his own thoughts that he didn't notice the dog coming out onto the porch until there was a furry head rubbing against the side of his knee. He blinked down at the dog who, in the entire time he'd been on the ranch, hadn't even gone outside to do his business, let alone anything else.

"Hey buddy," he said softly, making the dog look up at him. "You know how to do data entry?" Shadow snorted a breath through his nose then slid himself down into a laying position on top of Stiles' feet. Holy shit! "Just what I thought," Stiles chuckled softly. "That's what Derek thinks of paperwork too."

“What do I think of paperwork?” Derek asked, coming to the bottom of the porch steps. “That it’s awful and needs to be burned?” He blinked, and his eyes widened, realizing that Shadow was not only outside, but he was laying on Stiles’ feet. “Well. I told you that you were magic,” he said, blinking between Shadow and Stiles.

"Why? Because I magically make the paperwork disappear?" Stiles snickered, purposely attributing the comment to the paperwork and not Shadow.

“Totally the reason,” Derek said, deadpan. He carefully lowered himself to the top step of the porch, not wanting to upset Shadow. “First, he came to you to be pet, and now he’s laying on your feet. This is...” He paused. “I don’t want to ever give him up,” he blurted.

"You kidding me? This dog isn't going anywhere, he's definitely earned his keep." Stiles finally finished inputting the invoice and slipped it under the rock sitting atop the done pile. He really hoped Derek didn't ask how Shadow had earned his keep, because seriously, admitting he used a dog as a shrink was admitting to all levels of crazy.

Derek snorted again. He opened his mouth, going to say something else though he honestly wasn’t sure what that something else was, but he didn’t get to because he froze. Shadow was getting to his feet and slowly coming across the porch. His tail wagged just a tiny bit as he stopped in front of Derek. “Hey, boy,” Derek breathed, slowly reaching out his hand to pet the dog.

Shadow leaned into the touch, and then stretched his head forward to lick Derek’s cheek once.

Derek’s eyes shot up to Stiles’ face.

"Dog has good taste," Stiles’ grin was wide.

Derek was just going to die on the porch due to lack of air. He was going to pass out and hit his head because he couldn’t breathe. Between Shadow and Stiles... “I am not edible,” he managed to choke out, still petting Shadow.

"Not exactly what I meant but good to know," Stiles chuckled in amusement. "I haven't gotten kisses yet, so that makes you special. Derek, I..." he looked down at his lap, looking for words. "I haven't been fair to you and I wanted to apologize."

Derek was already shaking his head. “You don’t have to apologize, Stiles. I told you I’d give you as much time as you needed, and I meant it.”

"I know but... that wasn't working out so well, was it..." Stiles watched the hand that was still petting Shadow.

“Well...” Derek didn’t know if there was a right answer to that. “Did I do anything to make you uncomfortable?”

"No," Stiles answered honestly. "You never do anything that makes me uncomfortable."

“Then it was probably going okay,” Derek told him. He wanted to believe this was going somewhere good, but past experience had him wary.

"Okay for me, maybe," Stiles sighed. "Just take my apology, alright? Just let me try and fix the stuff I messed up."

Derek didn’t really know what to say to that. He didn’t really think that Stiles needed to apologize for anything, but... “Okay,” he said quietly. “Apology accepted, even if I don’t think it’s necessary.”

"Just humor me," Stiles spread his hands helplessly.

Derek raised his hand in reflex, but the way Shadow froze under his other hand had him very slowly and carefully lowering it back into his lap. “Sorry, baby,” he mumbled quietly, gently petting and scratching. Shadow relaxed under his ministrations faster than Derek would have thought possible. Wow. Just wow. “Apology accepted, Stiles.”

"Thank you," Stiles nodded firmly. "Now run along and play while I magically make the rest of this paperwork disappear."

Derek firmly and ruthlessly stomped down on his feelings, gave Shadow one last pet, and left the porch, going back to the barn.

Shadow turned around and stared at Stiles.

"I know, I know," Stiles said to Shadow as he watched Derek walk off. "Can't have him around to spoil the surprise though," he quickly shuffled around the papers, cleaning up the mess he'd made. "Come on, you can stare at me some more in the kitchen."

Shadow followed him into the house.

Derek stood outside the barn, watching the sun glowing orangey on the horizon. It wouldn’t set for another hour, at least, but it was low enough that its color had deepened and he didn’t want to let it go. Not when he was dreading what he was probably walking into in the house. Stiles hadn’t really left him with a lot of hope earlier.

Eventually, he turned and made his way to the house. If Stiles was going to tell him no after all, he might as well get it over with. Standing out here was going to do anyone any good. He climbed the steps slowly, and opened the door carefully. Shadow may have come to him earlier, but he didn’t want to scare the dog.

Stiles rushed to put things away when he heard the door. Derek was early, was this a good sign or a bad one? Shadow sat in the corner of the room atop a bed Stiles had put there for him and watched him rush around the kitchen in a fury of movement. He pulled the garlic bread out of the oven and dropped it onto the plate on the table quickly before his fingers got too burned. "Ow ow.."

“Stiles?” Derek said, moving across the kitchen to grab Stiles’ hand and check his fingers. “You should use tongs so you don’t burn yourself,” he said, tugging his friend to the sink and turning on the cold water. “Garlic bread isn’t worth burned fingers.”

"I know, I started rushing because you came in before I was done," he watched the water run over his fingers and thankfully a blister didn't form. "You're hungry, yeah?"

“Yeah,” Derek said. “I’m sorry... I didn’t mean to be early. I can leave again?”

"No no," Stiles waved his free hand in front of him. "It was little things, dinner is ready."

Derek looked at Stiles’ pink fingers, and still felt guilty. “I don’t know that making you burn yourself because I was early is a little thing,” he said quietly. “Can I help?”

"Yeah, you can bring the salad bowl to the table," Stiles nodded to where it was on the counter. "I already chopped it and tossed it and all that stuff." He grabbed a towel and dried off his hands after turning off the faucet. "I didn't have any chicken so I made meatball parm."

Derek picked up the salad bowl as directed. “You made... really?” he asked, blinking a few times. That didn’t sound like something that someone who was about to break up with him...or just... reject him... or whatever the hell it was they were doing. “You really made parm?”

"No, I just told you I did to torment you," he teased as he put a plate with 2 meatball parm sandwiches on the table.

Stiles’ cooking, as usual, smelled amazing, and tasted even better. “You’re all kinds of magic,” Derek decided. “Paperwork, meatball parm, it’s kind of unfair.”

"So far you've mentioned things that benefit you," Stiles said around a mouthful of hero. "So, it's definitely fair."

“No one should be that hot and that magical,” Derek said firmly, looking at his plate as he figured out how to continue to get it to his mouth without making a massive mess, and then just gave up and dove in. “Just... seriously, this is really good.”

"Just wait for dessert," Stiles grinned and used his hand to wipe at the tomato sauce on his chin.

Derek narrowed his eyes slightly. “Should I be worried?” he asked suspiciously. He felt a nudging at his knee then, and looked down in surprise to see Shadow positioning himself so that he could lay across his and Stiles’ feet. “Oh my god,” he said in surprise.

"Apparently, our son likes to lay on feet," Stiles nodded. "I hope he doesn't think we're going to feed him from the table."

Derek went quiet at that. Their son. Stiles was referring to Shadow as their son. It wasn’t wrong, in the sense that they were effectively raising him to be a competent, capable animal that could at least function day to day, but the implications behind it were... “Is he?” Derek asked before he could stop himself. “Our son?” he slightly accented the possessive.

Stiles looked down at the table, as if he could see Shadow through it. He thought about that, thought about how it sounded and he liked it. It sounded right. "Yeah," he looked at Derek. "He is."

Derek wasn’t sure how to respond to that. He had prepared himself for a fully prepared, “No, thanks.” Instead, he was getting... “Stiles, I...” how did he respond to that? He really, really didn’t know.

"You're over thinking things," Stiles said. "Let's just... stop with the thinking and just do what feels natural and right now that would include me kissing you but I'm afraid to spook the dog. So..." He let his head bob slowly in a nod. "We'll do the kissing after he moves, and after dessert which... yeah. Dessert will pretty much give you your answer, okay?"

Derek nodded warily. “Not trying to overthink,” he confessed. “Just...kind of not sure what to think at all?” he asked, but he did reach over and gently squeeze Stiles’ hand before tucking into his meal. He maybe ate a little faster than he usually would, but this was good, and he kind of wanted to see what dessert was.

"Think good things," Stiles watched him scarf down his meal. "Nice, happy things, okay?"

Derek immediately thought of all the good, nice, happy things that he could do to Stiles, and immediately had to shift in his seat. “Traitor,” he muttered, but there was a smile lurking at the edges of his mouth. He could feel it.

"Must've been really nice things," Stiles laughed.

Their conversation managed to shift to more innocuous things, like how the puppies were doing. How Cassidy had snuck into Scott’s bed the night previous, surprising the hell out of him and Allison, much to Scott’s horror and Allison’s delight. They talked about how Cookie kept following Isaac around, gently herding whatever dogs he was working with.

“Y’know,” Derek said, as he finished the last of his sandwich. “When Boyd called, I didn’t think I was taking on personal dogs for all of us.”

"Had to happen eventually. I mean, we're surrounded by dogs," Stiles pointed out, amused. "I'm glad it's Shadow, though," he said softly.

“Little surprised it didn’t happen earlier,” Derek admitted. He peeked under the table where Shadow was sound asleep on their feet, and smiled a little. “Yeah. I’m glad it’s him, too. I’m glad that you were able to make so much progress with him. And don’t argue with me, it was mostly you...”

"Arguing is in my nature," Stiles laughed. "But I'm glad he's opened up... I couldn't have handled another Rex either."

Derek looked at his now empty plate, a little sad to be reminded of Rex. Still, this wasn’t about that. They’d learned from that poor, sad animal, and here Shadow was, asleep on their feet. “Oh god, he’s snoring,” he said, utterly delighted. “Shadow is snoring.”

"You think it'll wake him if I try and move?" Stiles looked under the table. "I want to get the dessert."

“Probably,” Derek said. “He’s a light sleeper, right?”

"Okay, going to try this," he moved slowly and by some miracle managed to get his feet free without waking the dog. It left Stiles smiling, knowing that Shadow was relaxed enough to sleep this close to them. "This needs to come with a disclaimer, okay?" he went to the cupboard where he hid the dessert and pulled out a tupperware container. "I might even have this totally wrong and you probably hate it and oh god..." he stared at Derek and clutched to the container. "What if I remembered wrong and you hate it?"

“Not gonna happen,” Derek said firmly, wondering what, exactly, was in the container. “It’s something you made, so it is, by default, amazing.”

Stiles set the container down on the table and pulled off the lid to reveal a batch of peanut butter cookies that were meant to be in the shape of paws. He watched Derek's face to gauge his reaction.

Derek blinked into the container. Stiles had made him his absolute favorite cookies ever. In the shape of paws. Stiles. Had made him peanut butter cookies. Derek reached out and grabbed Stiles’ wrist gently, pulling him around the table until he could tug the other man down into his lap. “You made me my favorite cookies,” he said, a little awed.

"Oh thank god," Stiles sighed in relief and grabbed onto Derek's shoulder so he didn't fall off his lap as he leaned backward. "Shadow watched me agonize over a jar of peanut butter for an hour while I tried to remember if you loved or hated them. I... might have given him one," he admitted, a little embarrassed.

Derek pressed his face against Stiles’ shoulder in a relatively unsuccessful attempt to stifle his giggles. “Shame on you for giving the dog refined sugar,” he finally managed. He looked up at Stiles, still grinning helplessly. “You made me my favorite cookie. And even if I had hated them, it would have told me...” He very, very slowly brought his hand up to cup the back of Stiles’ neck, like he would with Shadow. “I love you,” he said. “You should shut up and kiss me now.”

"Okay," Stiles nodded and did as he was told, he kissed Derek. Somehow it was better than the kisses they'd shared these past 2 months. It was more... it meant more. He tried to express everything he was feeling in the kiss, wanting Derek to know how sorry he was for making him sad, how he was willing to step to the ledge now and risk falling off. "Just don't drop me, okay?" he whispered.

“Never,” Derek whispered back, sliding his fingers into the short hairs at the nape of Stiles’ neck, and kissing him again, asking for just a little bit more. He could now. He was confident in that. Stiles had finally given over to the love that Derek had waiting for him. They could do this now. Together.