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Feline Persuasion

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The cat shows up towards the end of the spring. Derek doesn't know when it first got there, exactly, because he's not out at the house every day. But one day he's there and there's just—a cat, at the edge of the tree line, watching him. Derek sees it as he's leaving, and he figures it's just someone's pet that wandered too far from home, so he doesn't expect to see it again. Except the next time he's out there, about a week later, it smells like there's been a cat living under the porch.

It's good timing on the cat's part, really; not too long ago the house wasn't exactly safe for a stray.

It's not exactly safe now, but the Alpha Pack is finally, finally gone and the porch is sturdy enough, so Derek doesn't feel like he has to worry about finding a dead cat there one day, at least.

There's not really any reason, then, for Derek to start going out to his old house more frequently after that. No reason for him to drive out there with his lunch and eat on the porch, or toss bits of meat towards a pair of eyes watching him cautiously from a hole in the wood. The cat isn't going to starve, or anything, there's plenty of mice around for it to eat. And there's no reason for Derek to go find a chipped bowl in the house and fill it with water, either, because it's not like the cat can't find water on its own.

Derek doesn't need to worry about the cat living under the porch at his family's old house, it's just—Derek's just used to worrying about things.

"Is Isaac here?" Scott asks, glancing around the loft, looking confused.

"No, he's with his foster family today," Derek says. Scott should know this.

"Yeah, that's what I thought, but…" Scott wrinkles his nose a bit; Derek's tried to no avail to get him out of that habit. "It smells like a cat? I mean, you didn't—get a cat, did you?"

Derek hesitates and sniffs the air himself, much more surreptitiously than Scott had. And yeah—he kinda smells like cat. He's used to it from Scott and Isaac, with them spending time at the animal clinic, so he just…hadn't really noticed the smell on himself. How long has that been going on? He hasn't even touched the cat yet.

Not that that's been a goal, or anything.

The cat does eat the food Derek gives it without waiting for Derek to leave first now, though. It even sits on the porch with Derek, sometimes, just not close enough to touch.

"There's a cat out at the house," Derek says with a shrug. "Living under the porch."

"What?" Scott looks immediately concerned. "Is it hurt? Or sick?"

"Doesn't smell like it." Derek's not really the best judge on cat-smells—he still doesn't know if the cat's a boy or a girl—but he's pretty good at hurt-smells and sick-smells, so.

"Maybe I should take a look at it," Scott says, eyebrows furrowed. "It could be somebody's pet. No one's been asking about a missing cat at the clinic, but still…"

"Check it out if you want," Derek says, trying to sound disinterested. The cat doesn't seem unhealthy; it probably doesn't need Scott's help at all. And if it belonged to somebody, well—maybe it left for a reason.

"We could go now," Scott suggests.

"Fine," Derek says, picking up his keys and heading for the door.

"Hey, kitty-cat."

Scott is sitting on the ground a few feet from the hole in the porch, being watched warily by a pair of green eyes. Derek is standing further back, off to the side, and occasionally the cat will glance up at him, all What the hell is this?

Derek just shrugs back. It wasn't my idea.

"It won't let you touch it," Derek had said as they got out of the car.

"I don't need to touch it to make sure it's okay," Scott had said, the 'I do this for a living' highly implied.

So now they're having some sort of werewolf-cat standoff on the front lawn. Derek's resisting the urge to ask snottily if Scott's learned the cat's life story yet.

"You wanna come out here, buddy?" Scott asks, and tosses a couple cat treats on the grass. The treats had been in Derek's car; Scott sniffed them out within a few minutes of getting in, then smiled in a way that was oddly devoid of mocking. He hadn't said anything, which saved Derek the trouble of trying to be dismissive about actually buying something for the cat.

"I usually sit on the steps," Derek says, when the cat does nothing but glare at the treats and then back at Scott. "Just ignore it till it wanders out on its own."

Scott looks back at him. "You've been coming out here a lot?"

"Not that much," Derek says, walking away to sit on the porch steps. A few seconds later Scott stands up and follows him.

"Have you given him a name?" Scott asks once he's sitting next to Derek.

"No. It's a boy?"

"Yeah," Scott says with a nod. "He's neutered, too, which means he isn't a stray. Or didn't used to be, at least."

Derek furrows his eyebrows. Partly, maybe, because the cat might belong to somebody, but mostly because—"You can smell that?"

"What, that he's been fixed?" Scott chuckles a little. "Yeah. Working in a vet's office, you learn that kind of stuff."

"That—" Derek feels like he should be giving some sort of praise, here, but it's not like this is a life-saving skill Scott's mastered. "Must be helpful," he finishes awkwardly.

Scott shrugs, laughs again. "Only when I'm dealing with strays."

"You said he's not a stray, though," Derek says, trying not to sound like he cares about the answer. He barely even sees the cat, it's not like he would miss it if it were gone.

"I said he wasn't at some point. Probably, anyway. I couldn't tell whether his ear's tipped, so he could be from a feral colony."

Derek looks at Scott, eyebrows drawing down. "Ear tipped?"

Scott nods. "Yeah, like, in some areas, stray cats will kind of, congregate? And people feed them, but they don't really belong to anyone, they just eat and keep having more babies. So sometimes people will trap them, get them fixed and then put them back where they were."

"They just let them go again?"

"Yeah. Most feral cats can't really be made into pets, y'know? They're too wild. So getting them fixed is a way to control the numbers without having to kill anyone. And then, before they release them, they cut off the tip of their left ear so everyone knows they don't need to be trapped again."

Derek's face scrunches up as he thinks about that, but then Scott starts talking again. "And I know it sounds bad, cutting part of their ears off, but it's only the very tip and they do it while the cats are still under from getting neutered. It's like, no worse than getting an earring, or something. Oh hey, he's out."

Derek blinks at the change in topic before following Scott's gaze to see the cat creeping out from under the porch, glancing up at them before reaching down for the first treat.

"Aww, pretty kitty," Scott says, smiling. The cat flicks his tail. "He seems healthy enough," Scott goes on. "He's probably a little over a year old? Dr. Deaton would be able to give you a better idea."

"Does it really matter?" Derek asks.

"No, not really. He looks like an adult, but young. And his ear's not tipped, so…I wonder what happened to his owner."

"You gonna put up flyers?" Derek asks, only half-sarcastically.

"Nah. I'll let Dr. Deaton know about him, probably call animal control and see if anyone's reported a missing orange tabby. Maybe check the paper. Other than that he's all yours."

"He's not mine."

Scott grins a little, sidelong. "Maybe you're his, then. That seems to be how it works with cats, anyway."

Derek rolls his eyes. "He's just using the porch for shelter."

"And you're feeding him," Scott says, shaking the bag of treats.

"I feed you sometimes, that doesn't mean you're—"

"You want me to be, though," Scott interrupts, eyebrows raised and half-smiling in a I got you there expression.

Derek doesn't say anything to that. He could refute it, but that would just make Scott scoff, because Scott hasn't figured out yet that it's not true, that it was never true in the way Scott is thinking. Scott hasn't figured it out, and in the going on a year and a half they've known each other, Derek's never been able to adequately explain it, has never even really tried. The closest he got was at the beginning, when he called Scott his brother, but Scott didn't trust him and didn't have any reason to, then Derek was an alpha and Scott thought that meant he wanted ownership, and Derek let him think it. Didn't bother reminding him that Derek never asked Scott to be his beta, that Derek was a beta himself when he declared him and Scott allies. Brothers.

So it's been a year and a half and Derek still hasn't been able to tell Scott exactly what it is he wants from him, and he's not going to tell him now that it's actually exactly what they've somehow managed to have: Scott is on his side—at least in the ways that count—as his equal, and they make each other stronger. What Scott said isn't true, but neither is what Derek had started to say, because Scott is his. Not his beta or his subordinate or even his friend, but definitely his packmate, whether Scott uses the terminology or not. And Derek is Scott's.

Derek still isn't going to tell him that, though. This good-natured teasing—hell, good-natured anything—is still a rarity between them, and Derek might not know how to handle it but he knows how to ruin it, and trying to be sentimental would do just that. Especially since Derek would undoubtedly screw it up somehow and make it sound insulting instead. Or worse, condescending. Scott hates it when Derek gets condescending.

"Having a pet is good for you, Derek," Scott says after a minute, looking out across the open space in front of the house. The humor is still in his tone. "It's been scientifically proven and everything."

"Don't you have someplace to be?" Derek asks, not looking at him.

"Yeah, probably," Scott says, and Derek thinks he screwed up anyway, but Scott's smiling a little as he stands, and waves as he heads down the stairs. "See you later, Derek. Bye, Derek's cat," he adds, ducking down in the direction of the orange tabby pressed up against the side of the porch, watching him.

"You need a ride?" Derek thinks to ask right as Scott's entering the tree line.

"Nah, I'm good," he calls back, then takes off into a run.

Derek looks over at the cat, who's still watching the place where Scott disappeared. "I think that's the least resentful towards me he's ever sounded," Derek tells him. "Where were you a year ago?"

The cat flicks an ear at him. Derek takes a treat out of the bag sitting on the porch and tosses it over.

It should have occurred to Derek to be expecting Stiles after that, but for some reason it didn't. Probably because the cat is at the house, and Stiles never finds Derek at the house. He finds Derek at the loft, at the library, the grocery store, the gas station, Scott's house, on occasion in Stiles's own room, but not at the Hale house. Except, apparently, when Derek's hanging out with a cat.

The cat's sleeping in a patch of sun on the porch while Derek debates on whether he can get close enough to it to take a picture with his phone. He's about to take another step when the cat's head jerks up, looking towards the road, and then a second later Derek hears it—the Jeep. The cat's gone in a second, running for the safety of the hole in the wood, and Derek sighs and flips his phone closed. He settles back on the steps and picks up his book while he waits.

"So I heard you got a cat," Stiles says after getting out of the Jeep.

"You heard wrong," Derek says, not looking up from his book.

"So that's not a cat staring at me from that hole in the porch, then?" Stiles asks, pointing.

"I dunno, maybe you should stick your hand in there and find out."

Stiles grins—Derek is still ostensibly looking at his book, but he can't help but catch Stiles's reaction—then walks over to crouch down and have a staring contest with the cat. "I didn't know you'd still be here, I thought your cat-bonding time was usually earlier in the day."

Derek furrows his eyebrows. "What?"

"Scott says you've been coming over here a lot," Stiles explains, still peering at the cat. "But no one's mentioned any mysterious absences, so from that we can extrapolate that you and Mr. Kitty here have a standing lunch-date, while we're all at school. Or breakfast, I guess."

Derek just blinks at him. "'Extrapolate'?"

Stiles shrugs, glances up. "Yeah, I dunno, SAT prep, some of it stuck with me." He stands up a little jerkily, stretching a bit before walking over and joining Derek on the porch, then reaches over and takes the book out of his hands.

"You should get a chair out here if you're spending so much time with the cat," Stiles says, looking at the back cover.

"I'm not over here that much."

"Sure you're not. So did Scott give you a lecture on responsible pet ownership?"

Derek snorts. "No. Are you going to?"

"Nope, although I might give the cat a few pointers on responsible werewolf ownership."

"Because you're the expert on that."

"Pretty much," Stiles says easily, turning to smirk at Derek. Derek rolls his eyes and thinks about taking his book back, but it's giving Stiles something to do with his hands, so he leaves it.

Sitting with Stiles like this is much less awkward than sitting with Scott had been, because where Scott and Derek aren't quite friends, Stiles and Derek apparently are. It took Derek longer than it probably should have to realize that, but to be fair Derek hasn't had a friend in…a long time. He's trying to be friends with Isaac, with Boyd, but there's more to get past there. He's working on it. And he has what could only be called, at best, a truce of sorts with Lydia and Allison. He is not working on that.

But he and Stiles—they came to an understanding a long time ago, in the midst of being thrown together repeatedly by the circumstances of life on the supernatural side of Beacon Hills. Then when things calmed down a few months ago, Stiles started throwing them together. That also took longer than it should have for Derek to figure out, that Stiles was finding reasons, inventing reasons, to seek Derek out. And maybe Derek was inventing a few of his own to go find Stiles, too.

So Derek doesn't know whether Stiles is actually here to see the cat or whether the cat is an excuse to see Derek, but he's fine with it either way.

"If I just sit here for a while, will he come out?" Stiles asks, craning his neck around to look for the cat.

"Maybe. Here." Derek reaches into his jeans pocket and pulls out a few of the treats he put there earlier. They're warm from his body heat and starting to get crumbly at the edges.

"You're keeping cat treats in your pocket now," Stiles says, amused, as he takes them from Derek's open palm.

"The bag makes noise," Derek says, maybe a little defensively.

"And what, he's scared of it?"

"No, he knows what it means."

Stiles turns back from tossing a treat towards the cat, looking confused. "And that's a bad thing?"

"The treats come from me, not from a bag."

Stiles blinks at him a couple times, then his eyebrows raise. "You're trying to make him like you more. By producing treats mysteriously without the aid of a crinkly plastic bag."

Derek makes a face. It's probably a scowl.

"That's adorable, Derek."

Derek scowls harder and snatches his book back.

"I went and saw your cat today," Isaac says the next evening when he shows up at the loft with take-out. Derek's thinking of trying to use the summer to instill healthy eating habits in his pack. They haven't really had the luxury of worrying about the perils of junk food so far, but maybe now's the time.

"It's not my cat," Derek says, following Isaac to the kitchen. He doesn't want to make the kid feel bad by not eating any of his crap food.

Plus Derek's hungry. Whatever.

"Scott and Stiles were right," Isaac goes on, grabbing a soda from the fridge. Derek doesn't buy those, but somehow they keep showing up. "The cat does like to sit in shadows and glare. Did you teach it that, or was it just naturally drawn to a kindred spirit?"

Derek rolls his eyes and hands Isaac a plate. They settle back on the couch in the main room and Isaac flips open Derek's laptop. He doesn't have a TV in the loft (that'll probably happen over the summer, too) but he has a Netflix account on his computer that Isaac and Boyd set up and make him pay for.

"It's a cute cat, though," Isaac says, scrolling through the list of titles on the screen. "You think it'd rather live here than out in the woods like that?"

"I'm not getting a pet, Isaac," Derek says, but it comes out as more of a sigh than with any sort of finality.

"It's probably happier in the woods, anyway," Isaac says, musingly, leaning back after deciding on what to watch.

Derek would rather be in the woods, he knows that much. But the loft is familiar, now, and it serves a purpose for him and the others. There's nothing for the pack out in the forest, and Derek's not sure how to go about changing that.

Boyd doesn't stop by the loft on his own. He'll show up when it's the whole group, and sometimes he'll be with Isaac or Scott when they swing by, but Boyd doesn't seek Derek out on his own, so Derek sees him less than the others. Derek's working on it, though, and so every other Saturday for the last couple months he's come up with something for them to do together. Usually it's lunch and a movie, which was weird the first time because it gave Derek serious flashbacks to high school. He hadn't been in that theater since he was 15 and it doesn't seem like it's changed much at all since then.

Today they had actually planned to head to some local batting cages, but it's pouring down rain outside and Derek texted Boyd earlier to see if he wanted to see a movie instead. They're on the way to their usual lunch spot now, but Derek's feeling oddly anxious as he watches the rain pelt the windshield.

"You okay?" Boyd asks, glancing over at him.

Derek hesitates, glances back. "Fine," he says, and decides that's the end of it, except then they're at a stop sign and: "Mind if we take a short detour?"

"Depends on if there's gonna be blood involved."

Derek sets his jaw but doesn't roll his eyes, because it is a valid condition to set. "I just need to stop by the house for a minute."

"'The house' isn't really a house, you know," Boyd says, seemingly offhand, but it feels like there's a point being made there. Derek ignores it. "Is this about your cat?"

"I'll let you drive on the way back," Derek says instead of answering.

Boyd smirks. "Let's go."

Derek gets the car as close as he dares to the house; it's not like he and Boyd can't get it out of the mud if it gets stuck, but Derek would rather avoid the problem if possible. "You can wait here," he tells Boyd, then gets out of the car and walks to the porch, squinting against the rain hitting his face.

Rain makes things smell weird, makes it harder to hear. Heavy rain is worse. It puts Derek on edge when he's alone, but with Boyd nearby it's easier to stay relaxed. He has to crouch down, though, right next to the hole to find out if the cat's inside. The whole area under the porch smells like the cat so that's not very helpful, but Derek shines the light from his phone inside and sees two eyes reflecting back. The cat's close, close enough to scratch him if Derek reached any farther in. Derek can hear water dripping under the porch, he thinks. It smells wet under there, but the whole world smells wet right now. He doesn't smell wet cat, which means the cat's managed to find a dry spot, at least.

The cat looks at Derek, and Derek looks at the cat, while his back is getting soaked with rain. "Don't go anywhere," Derek says, then heads back to the car, telling Boyd to pop the trunk on the way. Most of Derek's clothes are in the loft now but he still keeps some things in the Camaro. He pulls out a couple of shirts and a towel, opens another bag of treats he has back there and shakes a few out on one of the shirts before wrapping it up around them. On the way back to the porch he opens the driver's-side door and tosses the towel in the car.

Derek half-expected the cat to move just to spite him—it's what everyone else in his life does—but it's still crouched in the same place, watching him. Derek shoves the first shirt in close to the cat, hoping he doesn't get scratched in the process. He unwraps the other shirt with the treats in it and sets that down on top of the first one. He should probably get some actual cat food; feeding it this many treats probably isn't good for it.

The cat watches him do all this silently. "Stay dry," Derek says, then stands up again and turns around to see Boyd sitting in the driver's seat, smiling smugly at him. Derek suppresses a smile of his own and gets back in the car, taking the towel when Boyd hands it to him.

"I thought you were getting a shirt out for you," Boyd says as Derek tries to dry off his hair.

"I'm fine," Derek tells him. It hadn't actually even occurred to him to change into a dry shirt.

Boyd looks over at the hole in the porch. "Why doesn't it just go in the house?"

"Would you want to go in there if you could help it?" Derek asks, putting the towel between himself and the seat and leaning back against it, hoping it'll absorb some of the water.

"No, but I'm not a cat," Boyd says, then turns the key in the ignition. He manages to get the Camaro pulled around to the road, then turns the heat on low, angling the middle vents towards Derek.

It's the week before school's out when the cat finally lets Derek touch him. He's been luring it closer and closer with treats, but the cat takes them and moves out of reach to eat. The secret weapon, as it turns out, is canned cat food.

Not a great brand—Derek has maybe spent more time than he would like to admit researching cat food brands online, and he may or may not have ordered some ridiculously expensive stuff that hasn't been delivered yet—and to Derek it smells sort of incredibly unappetizing, but the cat seems to like it. Well enough to stay in place to eat it, and to not move when Derek runs a hand lightly down his back.

He growls, though, low and warning. Derek decides not to push his luck and lets the cat eat the rest of the can in peace while Derek sits nearby, reading a book. When the cat's done—he actually pushes the can off the edge of the porch trying to get all the food out; maybe Derek should have put it on a plate—he gives himself a quick bath and then proceeds to throw up everything he just ate.

Apparently a whole can of food was overdoing it a bit.

After that Derek doles out canned food judiciously, in small amounts, and always pets the cat a little while he's eating. By the end of the week the growling's stopped, and Derek tries not to feel like that's an accomplishment.

On the very last day of school the weather is impossibly nice and Derek is standing next to his car at one in the afternoon, looking at his family's old home while the cat sits on the porch and watches him, a spot of bright orange in the middle of the dull grey-brown of the wreckage.

The porch is in good shape, but the rest of the structure is probably beyond repair. Derek's not sure he'd want to repair it, anyway. But if he built something new, would the cat even be interested?

He'd had vague intentions to work out at the house today but he ends up just standing there, looking, thinking, for so long that he just heads back to the loft once he realizes how late it is. There's a blue Jeep outside the building, which isn't exactly surprising, but Stiles is only getting out of the car as Derek pulls up, which is.

"Was just about to text you," Stiles says, waving his phone a little.

"Thought the party wasn't for another hour," Derek says, leaning over the top of his car after closing the door.

Stiles grins a little at that, probably because Derek not only remembered the party but also just indicated he was planning to attend. "Yeah, but I was assigned alpha-fetching duty to make sure you actually showed."

Derek raises an eyebrow in disbelief, then remembers he's still wearing sunglasses so that's probably not very effective. "Really?" he asks instead.

"Okay, I volunteered, whatever," Stiles says, jerking an arm dismissively. "I had stuff to bring you anyway. Come help me carry this crap upstairs."

Stiles moves around to the back of the Jeep and Derek follows, not sure whether to be wary or intrigued. "What kind of stuff?" he asks, and his voice comes out suspicious.

"Oh, you know," Stiles says with a shrug, opening the back of the Jeep. "Stuff."

It takes Derek a few seconds to realize what it is he's looking at. "Stiles," he says, not taking his eyes off the contents of the car.

"Yeah, Derek." The words sound like Stiles is fighting back a grin.

"This is cat stuff."

"That it is," Stiles says, clapping Derek on the shoulder. "You get to carry the litter. That shit's heavy."

"Stiles," Derek says, but Stiles has already grabbed a couple of bags and started heading for the building entrance. "Stiles, I don't have a cat!"

Stiles ignores him. Derek huffs and grabs the litter.

"What am I supposed to do with all this?" Derek waves a hand at the pile of cat stuff now on the floor of his loft.

Stiles shrugs. "I dunno, you're the one with the cat, not me."

"I do not—"

"Look, man," Stiles interrupts, "we get that DC seems to be happy enough living out underneath a porch in the middle of the woods for the time being, but just in case he ever wants to move in here, we figured you should, y'know, be prepared. It was a unanimous decision and you know how often those happen so, just, go with it."

Derek blinks once, still staring vaguely at the pile, confused but maybe, sort of…a little bit happy. He doesn't say anything for a moment, until he looks at Stiles, eyebrows furrowed. "'DC'?"

Stiles grins, bright and a little sneaky. "Another unanimous decision. Well, more or less. The cat needed a name, and you obviously weren't going to do anything about it, so."

Okay, that makes sense, but it doesn't explain the name itself. "But—DC?" Derek asks, and he knows his confusion is coming across in his voice and his face, which feels rather scrunched. "Like the comics?"

It's the only reference he can think of, but Stiles doesn't look like Derek guessed right, doesn't look proud or annoyed, he looks—a little surprised, maybe, but it turns into this weird indescribable thing and his mouth opens and sort of moves silently for a second. "That's—that's adorable," he finally manages, and Derek scowls instantly. It was a reasonable guess, no need to make fun of him.

"No, no," Stiles says, shaking his head, waving his hands before nearly smacking himself in the face with one, then rubbing it down his cheek. "I wasn't—I'm serious, that was cute, having a cat has made you cute, God, I can't even—come on, let's go, we have to get drinks on the way."

His face and hands were too animated during that for Derek to have any clue what was going on, so Derek just follows along, finally catching the last thing Stiles said as he's walking out into the hallway. "I'm not buying beer," Derek tells him, and Stiles waves a hand back over his shoulder and keeps walking.

The party—dubbed by Scott and Stiles as the 'Hell Yeah School's Out Party'—is being held at Scott's house, because somehow in the last year Melissa McCall has decided Derek is a responsible enough adult to be entrusted with a house full of teenage boys.

Or she considers Derek one of the teenage boys and trusts her son enough to keep everyone in line. That's actually much more likely.

Derek had been a little concerned that Allison and Lydia would be there, but it turns out to just be a boys' thing, a pack thing, then, although Derek only calls it that in his head. It's missing the connotations of 'official' pack things, anyway, and has the relaxed-but-excited air that comes with teenagers being done with school for a few months.

Basically the afternoon consists of a lot of food and video games interspersed with throwing each other around Scott's backyard. Stiles stays on the sidelines during the more physical activities and loudly trash-talks everyone on Scott's behalf. Derek tries to stay out of it as well, but ends up getting goaded into the games a few times. It's a little awkward when Derek joins in because it's supposed to be fun and Derek's still relearning that, still has trouble with the competitiveness for its own sake, for sport. It's different when it's not a life-or-death situation, and Derek hasn't really figured out how to relax into it yet.

Part of the problem is that they all have to be careful, because they're in the middle of the suburbs and while boys wrestling around in a backyard isn't cause for concern werewolves wrestling around definitely is. It's good for them to practice the control but Derek can't help thinking it would be nice to have a place where they could just let go sometimes.

Scott's mom calls them when she's leaving work, giving them advance warning to get the house back in proper order before she gets home. It's a mad scramble of throwing away trash, washing cups and fluffing up couch pillows, but things look decent by the time the car pulls in the drive.

Isaac and Stiles are staying the night—Boyd never seems to sleep over at Scott's, though Derek assumes he gets invited; Derek doesn't get invited, so he never has to panic over the right response—and Melissa offers to give Boyd and Derek rides home. They both agree readily, but Derek catches the way Stiles looks like he wants to protest—he opens his mouth and closes it again before looking over towards Derek. Since Derek was already looking at him their gazes lock for a moment, and Stiles gives him a small, slow smile, knowing and distracted all at once.

Stiles has been smiling at Derek like that almost whenever they happen to look at each other since they got to Scott's house. Derek doesn't know what to think but he's pretty sure it's made him blush more than once.

He also hasn't asked anyone else what 'DC' is supposed to mean, and he's not sure if that's because of those secret smiles or just because he's afraid to embarrass himself.

Derek and Boyd exchange goodbyes with everyone on the way out; Boyd high-fives the other three, still seated around the TV. Derek walks behind the couch to ruffle Isaac's hair and squeeze Scott's shoulder briefly. Stiles, sitting in a chair at the end, holds up a hand for a high-five, his lips twisted in something that might be a smirk. Derek almost rolls his eyes but he doesn't, reaching up for the high-five.

Except Stiles curls his hand around Derek's when he does it, squeezing the ends of his fingers a little to keep Derek there. "Bye, Derek," Stiles says, looking up at him, his voice low, private, even though all he's saying is goodbye. Derek very nearly shivers.

"Bye," he says, a little rougher than he intended, and then the pressure on his hand's gone, Stiles has turned back to the game they're playing, but Derek's pretty sure that's a bit of a blush on his cheek. Derek's own face is a little warm, and he flexes his fingers as he turns towards the door.

Melissa asks about the party and Boyd's plans for the summer on their way to drop him off. Boyd gives easy, if brief, answers and thanks her genuinely when they get to his house.

Then Derek's alone in the car with her, and as they get to the end of Boyd's street, she says, "So."

Derek has barely even had time to start panicking when she continues with, "How's your cat doing?"

In the slight bewilderment of relief following that question, Derek, instead of saying I don't have a cat like he means to, instead says, "His name is DC."

"Oh?" Melissa asks, glancing over at him. "What's that stand for?"

"I don't know," Derek says, deflating a little. "They named him."

"The—the pack?"

Derek half-smiles at the careful way she says it. They have had—discussions, he and Melissa, which is why being alone in a car with her and her saying So is slightly nerve-wracking. One of the lengthier discussions was about werewolf packs, how they work, how humans figure in. Melissa, Derek thinks, more than any of the young werewolves Derek considers part of his pack, understands the true meaning of that word. It always sounds heavy when she says it.

"Yeah," Derek says, then adds, "minus you, apparently." It's Melissa's turn to smile a little at his words, and Derek's glad he said them.

(Stiles asked, once, about humans in a werewolf pack, but they'd been interrupted by something trying to kill them before Derek could answer—or more likely, dodge the question. He hasn't asked again, so Derek figures he doesn't really care at this point. Stiles knows where he stands, now, anyway.

As much as Derek would have liked to avoid answering Melissa as well, she never backs down when she wants to know something and always manages to get the information out of him eventually. Derek figures it's a mom thing. So he explained it to her as well as he could, how humans have a different sort of connection with a pack—emotional, not tangible.

"You mean magical," Melissa had said. Derek had grimaced but nodded. To humans, it is magic. To werewolves, it's just pack.

"Basically," Derek had said, and to the best of his memory he was almost quoting his own mother on this, "werewolves give a pack strength, and humans give it balance. And the universe likes things to be balanced."

Melissa had considered that for a moment, then said, "So Stiles…"

"Helps to balance us out," Derek had agreed with a nod. "And so do you."

"Oh," Melissa had said, blinking, and Derek had wondered if he had overstepped somehow, but then she smiled, her nose scrunching up a little. "Really? You think Scott's okay with his mom being in the pack?"

"Scott's not even okay with Scott being in the pack. But we could outvote him for you, if it came to it," Derek told her, and she laughed.)

They talk about the cat the entire trip to the loft. The conversation is stilted, but not uncomfortable, and far less weighted than some they've had, so all in all it's a pleasant enough ride.

"So will we be seeing a lot of you this summer?" Melissa asks as they pull up in front of Derek's building.

"Maybe," Derek says, then hesitates. "I might—be starting a project, soon. I could probably use Scott's help on it."

Melissa looks at him, skeptical. "Project?"

"Not the violent kind."

Her expression turns appraising. "Just Scott's help, or…"

"Everyone's," Derek says, reaching for the door handle. "It's—a big project."

"Huh. Well, let me know if you need me to do anything for this 'project.'"

"Thanks." Derek's trying to keep himself from bolting out of the car. "And thanks for the ride."

"No problem, Derek. See you."

"Yeah," Derek says as he gets out of the car. He half-turns to wave as she pulls away.

Apparently, Derek now has a summer 'project' he has to get started on.

Dammit.

When Derek was 16, he stole a book on architecture from a library in Colorado. He stole a few books, actually, in a pathetic fit of anger and rebellion, but the architecture book was the only one he read all the way through. More than once. In a way, it was a form of self-punishment: learning about how to design houses, how to build them, when all he'd done was manage to get one burned to the ground.

Laura didn't get that part, of course; she just saw her younger brother showing an actual interest in something, and wanted to encourage it. Or maybe she thought it was a form of self-therapy. Either way, she bought him more books. Books on architecture, on design. One on interior decorating and one on garden design, just to round it out. Derek read them all, hating himself.

He took a course on building design, eventually. It was online, and Derek only did half the work for it because he couldn't bring himself to draw anything. Couldn't make himself take that one step towards creating something.

But now Derek has a pack, and a cat, and if he can't create something for himself, maybe he can do it for them.

Derek's phone rings, and he pulls it out of his pocket, checks the caller ID before answering. "Yeah?"

"Where are you?" Stiles asks.

"Did something happen?" Derek pauses, trying not to panic preemptively. Stiles usually just texts if he needs something.

"No, I mean—well, you tell me. Your car's here, but you're not, and neither is DC."

Oh. "He's with me," Derek tells him, glancing over at the cat, who didn't stop when Derek did and is still heading towards the house.

"And where are you?"

"In the woods. On our way back."

There's silence on the other end of the phone for a moment. "You—you took your cat for a walk?"

Derek rolls his eyes. "No, I went for a walk and he followed me."

"Oh," Stiles says, sounding surprised. "Well—you're on your way back, right?"

"Did you need something?"

"The pleasure of your company?"

Derek huffs, because that way Stiles can't tell if he's annoyed or reluctantly amused. "Goodbye, Stiles."

"See you in a few minutes, you mean," Stiles says, then hangs up.

It would only be a few minutes if Derek ran, but if he runs he'll leave the cat behind. So it's more like 20 minutes. Stiles is still at the house, lolling across the hood of his Jeep.

"Oh my God, finally," he says, watching upside-down as Derek approaches the house. He rolls over and half-slides, half-fumbles his way to the ground.

"You didn't have to wait," Derek points out. He doesn't bother mentioning how exposed and vulnerable Stiles had been allowing himself to be while he waited.

"I wanted to see DC. I brought him a thing." Stiles picks something up off the ground and holds it out.

Derek raises an eyebrow. "You brought the cat a plant?"

"Catnip, Derek," Stiles says, like Derek should have known that already. Possibly he should have; Derek can smell the plant, but he has no idea what catnip smells like. Or, well, he didn't, at least. "So where is he? You said he was with you."

"He was," Derek says, turning to look for the cat. "He must still be scared of you."

"What?" Stiles scoffs in disappointment. "Have you been telling him stories about me? You should tone down my feats of strength and cunning so I don't sound so intimidating."

Derek snorts, but it sounds unnervingly like a laugh, and it makes Stiles grin. "So were you two just having a cat-werewolf bonding session out in the woods?" Stiles asks, setting the potted plant down in a sunny spot next to the porch. Derek hopes Stiles isn't expecting him to plant the thing. Maybe the cat will just eat it all and Derek won't have to worry about it.

"I was looking for a suitable site," Derek says, not realizing until after he's said it that maybe he didn't actually want to say it.

"Site?" Stiles asks, looking at him sharply. "That have something to do with your 'summer project'?"

"Scott told you," Derek says, although it's half a question.

"His mom did, actually," Stiles says, sticking his hands in his pockets. "She told us she thought you were renovating the loft, or something. But you're building out here, aren't you?"

Derek can't meet his eyes. "The cat likes it here," he says, and he knows it sounds dumb.

"Oh, you're building a house for your cat?" Stiles scoffs, lightly. "You like it here. That's why you won't take him to the loft. Even though Isaac set up all that stuff we bought already. And you ordered that fancy-ass cat food you keep in your fridge."

"Do you have a point, Stiles?" Derek says with a sigh. Most of the food is in the freezer, but that's probably not worth arguing.

Stiles shrugs. "Not really. Except none of us know the first thing about building a house so you might want to get some professionals involved."

Derek looks at him, then, and Stiles smiles before glancing away. "Make sure you get that plant in the ground soon. See you, Derek."

Stiles is already back to his Jeep before Derek's mouth starts running on its own. "You busy right now?"

"Not really," Stiles says, turning back to face him. "Was just planning on grabbing some lunch for me and my dad."

"Everyone else working today?"

"Yep," Stiles says with a nod. "Everyone except us two delinquents."

Derek hides a smile at that and starts walking towards the passenger side of the Jeep. "You're coming with me?" Stiles asks, confused.

"The animal clinic is on the way to the sheriff's station, and the ice rink is between that and the hospital."

Stiles blinks, then jolts in place. "We're taking everyone lunch? No, this is too much, having a pet has made you entirely too adorable, I have to get far away from you now."

Derek rolls his eyes as he slides into the passenger seat. "Get in the car, Stiles," he says, but it's lacking any trace of command.

"I can't be in this car right now," Stiles says as he leans on the open window, "it's full of too much cute. It might suffocate me."

Derek just looks at him for a second before raising his eyebrows. "Fine, I'll drive," he says, then starts to move over into the driver's seat.

"Oh, no!" Stiles opens the door quickly and starts shoving Derek back. "You wanna drive, do it in your own car, buddy." Stiles settles in his seat and closes the door. "And don't think I didn't know that was a ploy," he adds, holding a finger up at Derek.

"You're just too clever for me, Stiles," Derek says dryly.

"And don't you forget it," Stiles says as he buckles his seatbelt. "So. What're we having for lunch?"

Stiles manages to tell every person they bring lunch to that Derek is planning on building a new house—which Derek hasn't even actually confirmed yet, Stiles is just working off an assumption, here—and by the end of the day Derek is getting texts from Isaac, Scott, and even Boyd on things they want him to include.

He tells them to direct all suggestions to Stiles. Stiles glares at him a lot for that one.

As it turns out, though, with the other three all working part-time jobs, Stiles is the only one free to help a lot of the time. He latches on to the 'summer project' excuse and starts spending most of his days with Derek, planning and plotting, trying to befriend the cat, or sometimes just hanging around doing nothing.

So Stiles becomes the unofficial project manager, the other boys offer to tear down trees and paint walls as long as they all get their own rooms, and Melissa says she knows the name of a good contractor whose life she helped save once so it should be no problem getting someone to build in such an out-of-the-way location.

Derek hadn't even been sure he wanted to build a house, he just wanted something, and he'd wanted it to be secret for a while longer, but, well. He gave himself away on that one, and it's not like he would have been able to hide it from Stiles, at least, for very long anyway. So whether he set out to do it or not, it looks like now Derek's building a pack house.

"DC needs his shots."

Derek looks over at Scott, who's staring at the ground until he lifts his head and meets Derek's gaze. It's a rare day when no one's working, and a rarer day when they're all willing to give up their free time to help out with Derek's 'project.' Well, all except Stiles, who is having a 'Dad day,' but since the werewolves have been spending the morning cutting down trees and ripping up stumps he wouldn't have had much to do anyway.

Now they're lounging around the small clearing they've made, finishing up their lunch break. Derek's on an overturned log, Boyd on another one not too far away. Scott's sitting on a tree stump, Isaac on the ground next to it, leaning back, eyes closed. They haven't been talking much—eating was more important—and Scott's statement was unprompted. Derek doesn't answer him, just lifts his eyebrows slightly in response.

Scott huffs, lightly. "I know you keep saying he's not yours but you're the one taking care of him and this is part of your responsibility, Derek."

If Scott does not like when Derek gets condescending, Derek does not like when Scott gets that tone he's getting now. Lecturing. Scolding.

It's—it's pretty much Scott's self-righteous version of condescending. Whatever. Derek doesn't like it.

"You think he's going to get rabies, Scott?" Derek says, fighting to keep his tone dry and not let it turn caustic. He mostly fails. "You think I wouldn't know if there were rabid animals—"

"It's important for outside cats, Derek," Isaac cuts in, just as Scott's expression is starting to harden. Derek breaks their staring match to glance at Isaac, who's only now opening his eyes, looking at Derek sidelong, almost lazily. But there's a noticeable tension in his body. "It's not just rabies. There's stuff he could catch from other cats—stuff that could kill him, maybe before you knew anything was wrong. He should get his shots."

Derek exhales through his nose. He doesn't want the cat to die, or anything. He just didn't appreciate Scott's attitude. "When should I bring him in?" he asks.

"Tomorrow," Scott says, relaxing again. "We made you an appointment for one-thirty."

An appointment. Derek can feel the eye-roll wanting to happen so he stands up to hide it, brushing sandwich crumbs from his hands. "Fine. Let's get back to work."

Derek has never picked up the cat before. He manages it by distracting him with a plate of food—the good stuff, now that Derek has it—and running a hand along his back, non-threateningly, before wrapping both hands around him and lifting.

As soon as the cat's feet are off the ground he starts growling and Derek drops him back down. He goes back to eating. Derek scowls and tries to figure out how to get the cat in the car without actually picking him up. He needs to figure it out soon, because the sky is grey and getting darker, and if it starts raining the cat will be under the porch in an instant and Derek won't have any hope of making the appointment then.

The answer, of course, is to take his food away and set it on the passenger seat of the Camaro instead. The cat glares, hard, at Derek for taking the plate, and watches it move through the air carefully, eyeing the car as Derek retreats.

It takes a minute, and the cat seriously looks for a second there like he's going to say screw it and go find his own lunch, but finally he walks over to the open car door and hops up on the seat. Derek waits until he hears the sounds of eating before creeping over as silently as possible and closing the door as gently as he can manage. The cat flicks an ear at the sound but doesn't move, and Derek lets out a sigh of relief.

He'll let Scott and Isaac figure out how to get the cat out of the car once they get there.

The opening and closing of the driver's-side door aren't enough to distract him either, and Derek scratches the cat behind the ears while he's licking the plate clean. Then the cat hops in the back seat and starts his after-meal bath, and Derek just hopes the car interior won't be scratched-up and bloody at the end of this trip.

"So DC likes car rides, huh?"

Derek follows Scott's gaze where the cat is curled up, sleeping, in the corner of the back seat. "Apparently."

"Well, let's get him inside, then."

Derek steps back, gesturing at the open door. "You're the professional."

Scott scowls a little at that but moves the driver's seat up anyway, half-crawling in the back to reach the cat. "Hey there buddy," Scott says in a soft, soothing voice. "We're just gonna get you outta here and take you inside for your shots, okay?"

The growling starts a second after that, but where Derek would have backed off at the sound Scott just keeps doing his job, scooting out of the car with an armful of irritated orange tabby cat, who is still growling. Loudly. Ears back, tail twitching, basically radiating unhappiness and threat, but Scott's not bleeding.

"Oookay buddy let's just keep those claws in," Scott's saying as he walks quickly back to the building. Derek blinks after him for a brief moment, impressed despite himself, before closing the car door and following them in.

The cat doesn't stop growling the entire time they're in the vet's office. Deaton does a brief examination, then Scott holds the cat while Deaton takes a blood sample for testing before giving a series of injections. The growling gets louder during the blood draw, and the cat's fur poofs up a little along his back, but he never tries to scratch anyone. He does hiss, finally, when Scott tries to pick him up again, after they're done and Deaton's left the exam room. This time Scott does back off.

"It's raining outside," Scott says, looking from the cat, crouched on the exam table, up to Derek.

Derek nods. "I know." The rain had held off till they got in the building, at least.

"I'm not carrying him to your car in the rain," Scott says, raising his eyebrows slightly. "You want a box to put him in?"

"What?" Derek asks, scowling a bit, partly in confusion and partly at the idea of putting the cat in a box.

"A cardboard box, for transporting animals. They're not as sturdy as a real cat carrier but it'll keep him from getting wet, at least. And keep you from getting all scratched up." Scott grins.

"I'm not putting him in a box," Derek says, a little more forcefully than he intended, maybe.

Scott just shrugs, reaches out to scratch the cat behind an ear. The growling gets louder again. "Good luck, then."

Derek steps up to the table, huffing a bit. He knows he'll heal, but he really doesn't want the cat to scratch him. They've managed to go this far without bloodshed and he doesn't want to start now. Although, considering what the cat's just gone through, maybe they've already crossed that threshold and any retaliation on the cat's part would be well-deserved.

"Can you get the door for me," Derek says, a request that's not quite a question. Scott heads over to do it anyway and Derek picks up the cat, steeling himself for any potential pain.

It never comes. Scott walks ahead of them the whole way, opening the outside door to the clinic then holding a hand out. "Keys?"

"It's unlocked," Derek says, watching the rain apprehensively. The cat tenses in his arms as they step out under the building's overhang, and then Scott dashes out to open the car door. Derek gives him a second's head-start before following as quickly as he dares, hunched over the cat to try and keep the rain off of him.

"Thanks," Derek says once he's sitting in the car and Scott's closed the door after him. Scott just gives him a short wave before heading back to the building.

Derek opens his arms, releasing the cat, and the growling stops, finally and abruptly. The cat jumps in the backseat and proceeds to clean himself again while Derek lets out a relieved sigh that may be a laugh.

The rain starts to pick up almost as soon as they pull out of the parking lot. A block later and Derek gets a text message, which he reads at the next stop sign.

'Stiles says storms coming you cant take dc back out there'

Derek's residual positive feelings over Scott after the vet visit are the only reason he doesn't get irritated and snippy right away. He ignores the text, though, and starts driving again. He can hear the wind, now.

When his phone rings Derek rolls his eyes, preparing to lecture Scott right back on how if he's so worried about the storm he shouldn't be calling Derek while he's driving. "What," he says as he answers.

"There really is a storm coming," Stiles says, and Derek's chest does a funny lurching thing at the surprise. He's thought about giving Stiles his own ringtone before but knows Stiles would just find out about it.

"The cat was fine when it rained before," Derek points out, but he's stopped now at the intersection that normally determines his destination—one way for the house, the other for the loft.

"That's because DC is a badass," Stiles says. "But dude, this isn't just rain, they're talking about crazy wind and like, hail. Plus DC just had a doctor visit so he's been traumatized enough for one day."

"I'll get cat fur all over my furniture," Derek says. He's already made the turn towards his loft.

"And if you'd actually paid for any of it I might feel sorry for you," Stiles shoots back. "Besides you're covered in cat fur all the time now anyway. The orange really brightens up your wardrobe."

Derek lets out a breath of laughter at that, possibly too quiet for Stiles to hear. The cat's taken to rubbing on Derek's shirt when he sits on the porch. He's not covered in fur, but it is…noticeable, sometimes.

"If you had a TV over there we could have a storm party," Stiles goes on, and Derek can hear him spinning slowly in his computer chair.

"You can come over anyway," Derek says before he can stop himself.

"Yeah? Want me to bring food?"

Derek shrugs, although Stiles can't see it. "If you want."

"Cool," Stiles says. Derek can hear his smile. "I'll uh, see you in a bit then? Wanna get going before the storm really hits."

"Alright," Derek tells him, and then hangs up before he has to think of anything else to say. When he glances in the back seat, the cat is watching him.

"Shut up," Derek says, then looks back at the road.

The rain is harder when Derek gets to the loft, and the cat starts growling again as soon as Derek picks him up, but they manage to make it inside the building okay, and Derek gets to debate on whether the length of the stairs or the sounds of the elevator are less risky. His back is sort of soaking wet, though, so he opts for the quicker method.

On the way, Derek thinks about those articles he read on bringing a new cat home—he didn't go looking for them, he just found them while looking up stuff about the food—and takes the cat straight to the litter box when he gets in the apartment. Isaac set it up in an out-of-the-way corner, and it's filled with the least-offensive-smelling litter Derek has ever encountered, obviously chosen by the other werewolves for that quality.

The cat stops growling when he gets set down. He seems sort of unimpressed by the litter box, choosing instead to glare up at Derek. Derek scowls back and leaves him to it, going to the kitchen to find some catnip. The plant at the house had been eaten to the roots within three days, so Stiles had bought another plant for the loft, as well as a bag of dried catnip. Derek has doled it out very sparingly, but this seems like an appropriate situation for it. By the time he finds the bag, opens it, and turns around, the cat is in the kitchen, staring at his hands.

Stiles shows up with a pizza box and a two-liter to find Derek sprawled on the couch, reading, with the cat sprawled out on the other end of it, in some sort of catnip-induced relaxation.

"He's adjusting well," Stiles says, watching the cat with raised eyebrows.

"Catnip," Derek explains.

"Ah." Stiles smirks and sets down the pizza and bottle on the coffee table, then looks around the loft. He's relatively dry; Derek had heard him fumbling with something in the hallway, probably an umbrella. His shoes are soaking wet, though, and he starts to untie them. "Just us?"

"At the moment," Derek says with a shrug. "Who were you expecting? You didn't exactly bring enough food for everyone."

"Well," Stiles says, and he's blushing a little, now, as he takes off his shoes, "I know Scott's still working, and Isaac's on shift with him, I think, but uh, Boyd could've been here?"

Derek raises an eyebrow as Stiles straightens up, not mentioning how unlikely they both know that is. Stiles turns and walks into the kitchen.

He comes back with cups and a roll of paper towels, but no plates, and flops down on the couch between Derek and the cat, taking up more room than he probably needs to, his knee almost touching Derek's. "So," Stiles says, leaning forward to pour drinks for both of them, "business or pleasure?"

Derek feels vaguely like he's choking on air. "What?" he manages.

Stiles grabs a piece of pizza and takes a bite before answering. "We watching a movie or we working on house stuff?"

Oh. "I don't care," Derek says, taking a slice for himself and setting it on a paper towel.

"Scott says the lumberjacking's going pretty well."

"Well enough," Derek says with a shrug. "We got a lot done yesterday. It's easier when we're all there."

"Yeah. Where are you on the designs? Ready to meet with the architect yet?" His voice is a little hopeful.

Derek hesitates, then shakes his head. "No, not yet." He hasn't let any of them see the plans he's been working on. They're kind of a mess; once he finally started putting something on paper he couldn't really stop. Everything feels right when he's drawing it and then completely wrong the next time he looks at it. It's frustrating.

"Ready to let me see them yet?" Stiles asks, eyebrows raised, chewing on a piece of pizza. Derek watches his mouth for a second, then shakes his head again.

"I'm beginning to think these plans don't even exist," Stiles says, half playful and half dry. "Well I guess that concludes the business portion, then. Where's your laptop?"

Derek gets up instead of answering, walking over to his desk to get the computer. When he turns back, Stiles has scooted over into Derek's spot on the couch. Stiles just shrugs when Derek raises his eyebrows at him. "The cat was giving me a look."

"You're around werewolves almost every day and you're afraid of a housecat," Derek says as he takes the space Stiles vacated.

"He's a loft-cat, and you're afraid of him too, Scott told me you wouldn't even take him out of your car today."

Derek chooses to ignore the last part of that statement and opens the laptop on the coffee table. "He's an outside cat. This is temporary."

"I dunno man," Stiles says, leaning forward to look around Derek at the cat, "he seems pretty comfortable. I don't think he's in any hurry to get back to his broken porch."

Stiles takes the laptop from Derek while he's leaning over and Derek lets him. He pulls another piece of pizza from the box and sits back, feeling a little unsettled in a way he can't explain. Maybe it's just because of the rain.

The cat leaves at some point during the movie to go explore the new environment. Derek keeps an ear out to make sure he's not destroying anything. He doesn't move over into the empty space.

Right after the credits start rolling on the movie—Stiles changed his mind about what they were watching five minutes into three different indie films and finally settled on something he's seen so many times Derek could hear him mumbling the dialogue under his breath—Stiles gets a text. Derek picks up their cups and the empty pizza box full of used paper towels to take them into the kitchen, then washes the cups while he's there.

"Scott and Isaac are coming over," Stiles says as Derek walks back into the main area. "Not right now, in like twenty minutes. I told them they had to get their own food." Derek smirks a little at that. "They might be getting Boyd, too."

There's nothing particularly suspicious about that, but the way Stiles says it sounds like there should be. Derek narrows his eyes, but Stiles just smiles back at him. "Wanna watch something else while we wait?"

Derek doesn't want to, really. He actually spent most of the movie thinking about the house plans. Maybe getting another opinion on them will help him figure out what's wrong, why none of his designs seem anything close to right.

He's hesitating, though, not saying anything, staring vaguely at his desk with the drawer full of crumpled-up designs. Stiles is quiet, too, watching him, before turning to follow his line of sight and then standing up. Derek doesn't stop him as he heads for the desk, looking curiously at the top before opening the drawers. Derek tenses a little, but still doesn't move.

Stiles takes the sketchbook out of the top drawer and sets it on the desk, glancing over at Derek like he's looking for a reaction. Derek just crosses his arms and stares back, so Stiles moves to the next drawer, eyebrows furrowing a little when he sees what's inside.

"You know this isn't a wastebasket, right?"

"Might as well be," Derek says, hopefully under his breath, before finally striding forward and picking up the sketchbook. He grabs a pencil as well and retreats back to the end seat on the couch, hearing the sounds of paper being smoothed out.

"So the plans do exist," Stiles says after a moment. "And they're—really good, damn, Derek."

"They're not right," Derek says, willing down the warmth in his face. He can practically feel Stiles staring at him until the paper sounds resume.

A minute later and Stiles is dumping a pile of crinkled paper on the coffee table before falling back into his earlier spot, right next to Derek. "What's not right about them?"

"I don't know." Derek's focused on the blank sketchbook page in front of him, pencil poised over it, not moving.

"They look pretty good to me," Stiles offers. "Obviously I'm not an architect, or anything, but that's why we're hiring one, right? We just need a rough idea to start from."

Derek glances at the papers on the table, then back down at his blank page. "They're not right," he says again.

Stiles sighs, but it sounds more resolved than resigned. "Well. Maybe we can help."

Derek looks over, confused. Wary. "Who?"

Stiles is looking at Derek's mouth. They're sitting really close together. Then he meets Derek's eyes, and smiles, a little softly. "The people you're building the house for. Well, minus DC," he goes on, mouth quirking into an amused little grin, "since he can't hold a pencil. Or talk."

The words, when they sink in, distract Derek from Stiles's lips and how close they are with a realization. "He doesn't talk."

"DC?" Stiles asks, sounding a little confused but still entertained. "Yeah, dude, he's a cat. Just a cat, right?"

"Yeah, but, he doesn't talk," Derek says, glancing around even though he knows the cat managed to climb the spiral staircase earlier and is still upstairs. "Meow, whatever. I've never heard him make noise except for growling. And he hissed at Scott today."

"He doesn't purr, either?" Stiles sounds surprised, now.

Derek shrugs. "Not that I've heard." He stands up.

"Is that—what does that mean?"

"I don't know!" Derek's sounding a little exasperated, but that's only because he's worried. About the cat. Who doesn't meow.

"I'm sure it's no big deal?" Stiles says, but Derek's already walking away, towards the stairs. "Scott'll be here soon, we can ask him about it?"

They can. That would make the most sense. Derek doesn't know why he's going to look for the cat, but he finds him a few minutes later sniffing things upstairs. There isn't really a lot to sniff, up there, but he's managing.

"Why don't you talk?" Derek asks the cat. The cat walks over and rubs against Derek's legs. Derek sits down on the dusty floor and the cat headbutts his knee. "You never even purr," Derek says, scratching a finger down the cat's spine. The cat arches into the touch, but doesn't make a sound.

"You know you should be keeping him confined until he learns how to use a litter box?" Stiles's voice carries from downstairs. He's apparently looking up cat care articles on the Internet. Of course.

"I'm not confining you," Derek says to the cat. "Even though you seem to like it here. And you liked the car." The cat's walking back and forth, rubbing against Derek's leg, butting against his hand every other turn. "I like the car, too," Derek goes on, voice quieter. "And the loft—is useful. But you should be in the woods. We both should."

"Looks like there's probably nothing to worry about," Stiles says. "Some cats are just quiet, apparently? You can get him checked out if you want to be sure nothing's wrong, though."

"I'm not taking you back to the vet, either," Derek tells the cat. "Do you want a treat?"

The cat looks at him, then, because he knows what that word means now. Derek smiles, just a little, and stands up, since he doesn't have any treats on him at the moment. The cat follows him back downstairs and to the kitchen.

"You being followed around by a little orange cat is also adorable, just so you know," Stiles says after him.

Derek chooses not to respond to that. "Scott and Isaac are here," he says as he puts the bag away and walks back to the couch with a handful of treats, the cat following closely.

"And Boyd?"

Derek sits down, listens. "Yeah."

"Good," Stiles says with a nod. "Will he take the treats out of your hand yet?"

"No. But he likes to chase them." Derek tosses a treat a few feet away and the cat runs after it, grabs it with a paw.

"Again with the cute," Stiles says, like it's a complaint, but Derek doesn't think it actually is.

Scott, Isaac, and Boyd fall through the door a minute later, wet and carrying bags. Derek smells fast food hamburgers and fries. He really needs to have that talk about nutrition, but it'll probably have to wait until the house is done. It's been a busy summer so far.

"Dude," Stiles says, setting the laptop down and hopping to his feet, "you didn't get the stuff all wet, did you?"

"No," Scott says, shaking his head and sending water flying from his hair. "It's in bags, it's fine." He shoves the bags he's carrying at Stiles, who jostles them a little to knock some of the water off.

"Awesome." Stiles walks back to the couch, looking in the bags and completely ignoring the other three, who are looking sort of pathetically damp.

"I'll get some towels," Derek says, standing up and setting the rest of the treats on the coffee table. The cat ran off somewhere when the door opened. "Don't move."

Since no one actually listens to him, Derek comes back from the bathroom to see three rain-soaked werewolves lounging all over his furniture. Scott's next to Stiles, already shoving a burger in his mouth; Isaac and Boyd are in chairs, picking through the other food bags. Derek sighs and throws towels at them all. At least they'd taken off their shoes by the door first.

When Derek settles back in his spot—and he's pretty sure Stiles scooted a little closer while he was gone—a burger gets tossed at his face. "We got you one too," Isaac says as Derek catches it.

"Thanks," Derek says, because it always seems to make Isaac happy when Derek thanks him. He catches Isaac's little smile before focusing on what Stiles is doing—pulling paper out of the bags. Notebooks, a ream of printer paper, and several pads of graph paper. And two packs of mechanical pencils.

It's only then that he realizes his crappy house plans are still all over the table.

"Stiles, what are you—"

"We're helping you," Stiles interrupts. "You don't have a TV, so instead of mindless entertainment on this stormy evening, we're gonna design a house."

"Dude," Scott says through a mouthful of burger, "that's what all that stuff was for? I thought Derek was designing the house."

"Yeah, well, I got tired of filtering all the ridiculous crap you guys wanted him to include."

Scott swallows loudly. "Hey you said the home theater was an awesome idea."

"I think he means the entire room dedicated to lacrosse gear," Isaac drawls.

"It was a mud room! Lots of houses have mud rooms!"

"Stiles," Derek says sharply, quietly.

"What?" Stiles says, turning back to him. "This is easier than me telling you everything they want, right? You can take everything we draw and then, like, use the parts that actually make sense and combine them into one super-design. Or something."

Derek just looks at him.

"Or we could all leave and you and your cat can sit here and enjoy the storm. Alone. Whatever."

That—that Derek doesn't want, because it is storming, the rain heavy and loud, with the wind and frequent thunder adding to the noise. It's still early in the evening but the sky is completely dark, and there's just so much noise, and Derek would really rather his packmates stick close right now.

There's a good chance Stiles somehow knows that, actually, and is being a manipulative little shit right now.

"It's fine," Derek says, and immediately unwraps his burger and takes a bite.

"Good," Stiles says, going back to sorting through the supplies.

"Are these the designs you've been working on?" Isaac asks, a note of curiosity in his tone as he touches one of the wrinkled pages with fingers that are probably covered in French fry grease.

"They're good," Boyd says, leaning forward to see one closer to him.

"Really?" Scott moves to the edge of the couch, craning forward to see one himself, but Stiles starts gathering them all up.

"Nope," he says, "we're not gonna look at Derek's stupidly talented designs so we can all feel inadequate about our own. Here Derek, do something with these." He shoves the stack back at Derek, who is still in the middle of eating, so he takes the papers and tucks them between himself and the armrest.

"Here," Stiles goes on, passing out notebooks, graph paper, and small stacks of printer paper at each of the other three, along with a pencil. "Let your imaginations run wild."

The funny thing is that they actually do it. Within a few minutes Scott and Isaac have joined Stiles around the coffee table, with Boyd still in his chair, frowning in concentration at the notebook in his lap. The sound of pencils moving across paper fills the loft, with frequent sniping back and forth ("that house is round, Scott" "well at least he didn't make the kitchen so big he ran out of room on the page") and the occasional break to try and entice the cat into playing with any of the toys they'd bought.

The cat runs after treats when they throw them, but mostly he just sits in the corner and watches them all. Silently.

At one point Isaac says, softly, not looking up from his drawing, "Maybe we should have a room for Erica."

Derek can see Boyd tense up, but all he says after a brief pause is, "We'll have to paint it pink," and Isaac smiles.

A minute later Scott says, petulantly, "Jackson isn't getting a room," and they all laugh.

Derek works in his own sketchbook, and the designs don't seem as terrible as usual.

"I gotta get home," Scott says, glancing at his watch. It's close to seven and still raining steadily, though the worst of the storm's been coming and going. Right now it's fairly quiet, so it's probably a good time for them to leave. Not that Derek actually wants them to leave, but. His loft isn't exactly equipped for sleepovers, and he wouldn't know how to ask, anyway.

Maybe when the house is built they'll all stay, sometimes.

"Yeah, it's getting pretty late," Stiles says, leaning back, stretching, his arm brushing against Derek's leg in the process. He tilts his head further to look at Derek. "You need help cleaning up?"

Derek wants to say yes just so someone will stay, but that would be selfish and unbecoming of an alpha. Or something. "I can handle it. You all should get going before the weather gets worse again."

"Yeah, probably," Stiles agrees, and then puts his hand on Derek's knee to pull himself up. Derek can feel the heat through his jeans and he just stares at the hand, no idea what expression is on his face, until Stiles squeezes a little before letting go.

When Derek can drag his attention back to everyone else, they're all standing up, setting their drawing supplies on the table. "Is DC gonna be fine here all night?" Isaac asks, shooting a half-concerned glance towards the cat, who's crept a little closer but is still firmly out of petting range.

"He seems pretty happy," Scott says. "I mean, he doesn't seem agitated, or anything. He looks kind of annoyed, but he's a cat, so."

"Derek's cat," Boyd says, and that gets an amused noise out of Isaac and Scott and a quick smile from Stiles.

Derek figures they're probably making fun of him and feels himself scowl. "I thought you guys were leaving."

"Yeah, yeah, we're gone," Scott says, holding up a hand in a wave as he heads to the door to put his shoes on. Boyd and Isaac follow, and they all say their goodbyes. "You coming, Stiles?"

Stiles has been lingering a little, so he's just now getting to his shoes, and he lifts his head from them to look nonchalantly at Scott. "Yeah, go on, I'm right behind you."

They're already to the stairwell by the time Stiles is done with his first shoe, and he ties the other one up just as slowly. Derek isn't just sitting and watching him; he's gotten up by now, is gathering up the empty cups and soda bottles his pack of slobs left behind. When they're at the McCalls' house they always clean up.

"I think DC makes a good loft-cat," Stiles says, finally. He's paused in the doorway now, not quite halfway out of it. His voice is a little quieter than normal, like he doesn't want the other three to listen in. "I mean, he makes a good forest-cat too, obviously. But uh, it's good that it's not just you here, anymore."

Derek just stares at him, hands full of empty drink containers, trying to think of something to say.

"Anyway," Stiles goes on, tapping his fingers against the doorjamb, "gotta beat the storm, so." He jabs the thumb of his other hand over his shoulder. "I'll see you? Have fun with those design masterpieces, there." Then he grins crookedly. "Make sure you confer with your feline compatriot. It's his house too, y'know."

Stiles waves, and then he's gone, and Derek is still standing there with his hands full of empty drink containers. DC—the cat—jumps up on the coffee table at some point, and looks up at Derek.

"What," Derek says to the cat, feeling judged for the warmth on his face.

Derek finally figures it out approximately ten minutes later, when he's trying to straighten out all the papers the cat is now sprawled all over and is actually getting distracted looking at each one.

They're—well, very amateurish, obviously, but there's something real about them, about these ridiculous designs his packmates drew up. Stiles gave himself the biggest room in at least three of his; Scott included a full-length lacrosse field in one of his designs and an archery range in another (not happening, Scott); Boyd apparently got into the spirit of the whole thing and drew a garage with a Zamboni machine inside and—someone being crushed under it, the floppy hair isn't very identifiable but Derek's gonna go with Stiles because he manages to piss Boyd off the most; and Isaac…

Isaac drew the outside of the house on some of his pages. One of them shows a front view of a house with a wraparound porch and the pack members scattered around. They're mostly stick figures, so Derek only knows who's who because they're labeled—Derek on the steps, Boyd on a porch swing, his arms along the back of it, Scott and Isaac on the roof of the porch, and Stiles dangling off the side. Derek can't tell if Scott and Isaac are concerned or laughing about that.

But there on the steps next to Derek is a tiny figure with pointed ears, and there next to the label that says 'Derek' there's one that says 'Derek's Cat' and somehow, seeing it in print makes it click.

Derek fishes his cell out of his pocket and hits the speed dial number for Stiles without taking his eyes off the page. His pack is full of children. Well, and Mrs. McCall.

"Miss me already?" Stiles says when he answers the phone.

"You named him Derek's Cat?" Derek says, incredulous.

He can practically hear Stiles grin over the phone. "Or Derek the Cat, depending on who you ask. Congrats on finally figuring it out."

What. "Derek. The Cat." He can't tell if that's better or worse, really.

"Hey it was either that or 'Moonbeam,'" Stiles says, and Derek can imagine the shrug. Moonbeam. They're children. "I think we went with the better choice, personally. I'm still super-impressed you thought it was DC Comics, though," Stiles goes on, his tone a little different. "Like, there were heart palpitations when you said that. I got a little turned on."

Derek almost snorts. "No you didn't." He would have noticed.

"Dude," Stiles says on an amused breath, "I think you underestimate how little it takes to turn me on."

"I really don't," Derek mutters, too low for Stiles to hear. Except the very, very deliberate pause following that reminds Derek that sometimes human hearing isn't nearly as bad as he would like for it to be.

"You catalogue that, do you?" Stiles says, and he sounds like his eyes have gone narrow, expression discomfortingly discerning.

Derek swallows. "I don't—"

"You do that for everyone, or just me?" He sounds…almost amused, but also like he actually wants to know.

Derek doesn't know what to say. "…I have to go feed the cat."

Stiles's disbelief is palpable through the line. "Wow, that—was that an innuendo? Because that's one of the weirdest damn ways I've ever heard to say—"

"I'm hanging up now, Stiles," Derek says hurriedly, cutting him off.

"Don't run away from your feelings, Derek!" Stiles shouts, laughter in his voice now, as Derek ends the call.

Derek's holding his phone, wild-eyed, heart beating quickly, and the cat is staring at him. The cat is staring at him like he wants something.

"I just said that to get off the phone," Derek tells him. "I'm not really feeding you now."

The cat keeps staring.

"Come on," Derek says with a sigh and heads to the kitchen, the cat trotting after him.

 

 

 

 

The cat is eating noisily in the kitchen and Derek's trying to figure out what to do with the rest of his evening—he's been sitting for far too long and the rain's making him antsy now, he needs to move, or maybe sleep, or maybe he's hungry?—when he hears the Jeep.

He can just barely hear it over the sounds of the storm that's picked up again, and he feels like he should probably be worried because maybe something's wrong, but he isn't. He's…something, that's for sure, but Derek's pretty familiar with worry, and this isn't it, exactly.

Which is why he doesn't leave the apartment, he just waits for Stiles to get there. Which he does, a few minutes later, and to Derek's ears his heartbeat is almost as loud as his footsteps and twice as fast. But Derek doesn't think that's worry, either.

Derek meets him at the door and opens it, Stiles dripping wet on the other side. They stare at each other for a while, Stiles's mouth hanging open like there's something he's trying to say. "You're back," Derek says before Stiles can get whatever it is out.

"I forgot my umbrella," he says, pointing without looking down at the umbrella he left standing up in the hallway earlier. That explains why he's wet this time, then. "And the weather's gotten worse," Stiles goes on, seeming to pick up steam. "After you called and hung up on me I was sitting there on the side of the road, where I had safely pulled over to accept the call—" Derek rolls his eyes here, although he does feel marginally guilty for calling Stiles while he was driving in this weather—"and I thought, you know, I'm not a werewolf!"

He says this last part with a wide-eyed expression and an exaggerated shrug, and Derek just lifts an eyebrow at him. "At least you were pulled over safely for this life-changing epiphany."

Now Stiles rolls his eyes, but he's fighting a smile. "I mean, Scott can drive in this shit but I shouldn't. Right?" He runs a hand through his wet hair, slicking it back before most of it sort of falls all over the place again. "So I thought, hey, Stiles, maybe you should wait this storm out somewhere. And your place was closer than mine, so." He shrugs again, with one shoulder this time, almost tentative.

Derek's place might have been closer than Stiles's house, but there's a good chance Scott's house was even closer. Derek's not going to point that out, though.

"So you came back."

"Yeah. And uh, it's pretty bad out there, so I might…be here a while."

Derek wants to smile. "You came back, to stay the night," he says, for confirmation.

Stiles blinks at him, and Derek looks steadily back. "If that's—I don't—I can just, not," Stiles says, and starts inching away, embarrassed, like Derek's telling him no or something.

"You can stay," Derek says, almost too quickly, then moves when it occurs to him he's blocking the doorway.

"Yeah?" Stiles says, hopeful now, stepping back into the apartment. Derek just nods. "That's—yeah, okay," Stiles says, ducking his head a little, a blush creeping up his neck. "I'll just—" He leans over to untie his shoes and for a moment Derek's afraid he's going to sway and fall over but he manages it, toeing off the shoes and then peeling off his drenched socks. Then he's standing there, barefoot, and Derek doesn't know what he's supposed to do.

"It's really cold in here now," Stiles says, nodding, like it's just an observation, but he shivers a little in place.

"I can find you some dry clothes?" Derek really didn't mean for that to be a question.

"Yes, that would—that would be great." Stiles is nodding again, and Derek turns to go rummage through his clothes.

Part of Derek thinks that he shouldn't be feeling this wired right now, so much more than just from the storm, because he and Stiles are friends. Right? Them hanging out alone together isn't uncommon, especially lately with the house project. Hell, they were alone together, in the loft, just earlier today and Derek wasn't feeling like this.

But Stiles wasn't here to stay the night, then, and—if he'd just wanted to stay with a friend, he would have gone to Scott's.

Right?

"I'm just gonna—" Stiles starts, and Derek hears him take a few steps, water dropping slowly onto the floor, before he stops again. "Derek," Stiles says a moment later, and he's sounding a little…whiny? "Derek, your cat won't let me in the kitchen."

What, Derek thinks, and he looks over, a pair of sweatpants in his hand, to see Stiles staring at the cat. The cat, who's sitting calmly in the middle of the entrance to the kitchen, and staring straight back at Stiles.

Stiles looks pathetic, he's soggy and shivering and barefoot, facing down a 10-pound cat, and his glare looks more forlorn than anything else. Derek may or may not actually start laughing at him.

That's definitely a soaking-wet t-shirt landing on his face, though, as Stiles stomps over and grabs the sweatpants out of his hand. Derek probably should have caught that, but he's a little distracted, and when he pulls it off there's Stiles, right there, and then Stiles is kissing him, and his lips are cold. And his hair is getting Derek wet.

Stiles has stepped back before Derek even has a chance to register his internal protest at the movement, and Stiles's face is red and Derek wants to touch it. "I'm going to change," Stiles says, his voice breaking just a little, "and you're going to make the coffee. Or hot chocolate, hot chocolate's better." Then he scurries away to the bathroom.

Derek's already in the kitchen, obediently getting out the milk for the hot chocolate, when he realizes Stiles didn't grab a new shirt. He grins and reaches for the mugs.

The cat—DC—is winding around his legs, probably begging for food even though he just ate, but Derek doesn't care, he crouches down to scratch under the cat's chin. "Thank you," Derek whispers, not really sure what he's thanking the cat for—being intimidating?—but DC closes his eyes and lifts his chin a little, and Derek thinks—he's pretty sure—that's a purr rumbling in there.

It sounds kind of like You're welcome.