Derek’s patience is wearing frighteningly thin. They’re shooting the annual firefighter charity calendar today and out of all them, he’s spent the most time in front of the camera. Even when he’s not posing, the photographer is there, snapping away, and there are at least five pictures of Derek eating or drinking while flipping the guy off. The organizer is no better, she keeps hinting that Derek’s partial shift would sell more calendars, but he’s not about to indulge whatever werewolf fetish she’s working with.
His coworkers and so-called friends aren’t much better, standing on the sidelines jeering and teasing him about his angry-sex face, whatever that is. Erica keeps whistling, and Isaac has suggested they hose him down three times so far. His complaints of sexual harassment to Chris, their chief, have been met with a pat on the shoulder and Chris telling Derek he’s being a very good sport.
Allison, one of the EMT’s on duty and Chris’ daughter, keeps giving him double thumbs up from across the vehicle bay, while Boyd, her partner, looks like he’s just happy it’s Derek and not him up there.
After about a hundred shots of Derek with an axe, he simply walks away, ignoring the laughter of his friends and the protests of the organizer. He’s upstairs putting his regular uniform back on when Chris comes in, chuckling at the glare Derek gives him.
“You lasted longer than I thought you would,” he says, leaning in the doorway.
“Guess you lost the betting pool, then.” Derek buttons up his shirt with as much malcontent as he can muster.
Chris scoffs, offended. “Give us a little credit, wouldya?”
Derek grumbles and grabs his bag. He was technically off a half hour ago, and he has plenty of work to do on the house before the sun goes down. The others are in the kitchen, splitting a pizza now that their modeling duties are over for the year.
“You want some?” Isaac asks, offering the box. “You earned it.”
Derek waves him off. “Nah, I’m good. I need to get going.”
“Date with Hot Teacher tonight?” Erica asks, wiggling her eyebrows. “Just remember it’s not the size of the vector that matters, it’s the way the force is delivered!”
“You need help,” Derek tells her, walking away. “And she teaches English,” he tosses over his shoulder.
Allison’s waiting for him by his truck, grinning and holding out a handful of cash. “Your cut, Alpha Hale.”
“Why, thank you,” he says, counting the bills. “Two hundred?”
Alison shrugs. “It’s been a slow month, they were bored and easily riled up. Like lambs to the slaughter.”
“Always a pleasure doing business with you,” Derek fist bumps her and climbs in the truck.
When Derek pulls into his driveway, there’s an unfamiliar dog barking obnoxiously at the lumber pile sitting in the front yard. He climbs out with a low growl, heading straight for the pile to see what the dog has trapped in there. A hiss and the swipe of an orange paw has the dog darting backward before jumping back up and snapping its jaws. Derek snarls at the dog, flashing his eyes until it cuts its losses and runs off.
He ducks his head to look into the small hole created by the different lengths of wood and finds a pair of large, green eyes staring back at him.
“Hello, there,” he says, carefully reaching between the stacks of lumber to pull the cat out. “He’s gone now, you’re safe.”
Derek’s not sure how the cat manages to look unimpressed, but somehow it does.
“Not going to thank me then,” he holds the cat to his chest and checks its collar. “Arlo?”
The cat purrs and rubs its head under Derek’s jaw.
“You’re welcome. Now, off you go home, I’m sure someone’s missing you.” He places the cat on the grass, where it stares up at him blankly. He shakes his head and makes his way onto the porch to unlock the front door. As soon as there’s enough space, the cat is through his legs and inside.
“Hey! Come back here!” Derek calls after it, shutting the door behind him and stalking the cat through the house. He finds Arlo in the kitchen, perched expectantly in front of the fridge.
“Not a chance, buddy,” he picks up the cat again, but no matter how many times he looks, all his collar tells him is the cat’s name; no contact info for its owner. “Okay, you can stay the night, but tomorrow we’re finding out where you belong.”
The cat looks smug, Derek swears it, but he pulls out the leftover rotisserie chicken that was to be his dinner and gives it to his new house guest. He putters around for a few hours, resealing the window in the upstairs bathroom and fixing the lock of the back door so it doesn’t stick anymore. He spends forty minutes staring at the living room wall, trying to put into words the colour he sees in his mind, but it remains as elusive as ever. Eventually he gives up and goes to bed.
The next day after work, Derek’s feeling lost in the pet food aisle, comparing two types of dry food, when he first scents it. He closes his eyes and pushes away the wafting odor of cat food and the general wet cardboard smell of the grocery store to focus on the tantalizing mix of fresh dirt, cinnamon, and heather. There’s a sharp undercurrent of antiseptic and the musk of a multitude of animals, and the depth of the essence coats his tongue, leaving him hungry for more.
“Having trouble deciding?”
Derek’s eyes pop open at the words to find the source of the intriguing scent standing beside him, an expectant, but friendly look on his face.
“I don’t have a cat,” he confesses, holding up the two bags.
The guy wrinkles his nose and all Derek can do is stare. “Ah, okay. I mean, I’m not one to judge, but um, I hear dog biscuits are usually better for, um, play.”
“What? No!” Derek flushes, throwing the bags back on the shelf like they’ve burned him. “No, no, there’s a cat in my house, but it’s not my cat. I found it. Him. Arlo, his name is Arlo.”
The guy smiles, a small dimple popping out amidst the collection of moles on his left cheek, his Whiskey coloured eyes sparkling. “What kind of cat is Arlo?”
“An orange one,” Derek says, decisively.
His laughter is bright and warm. “Right, well those are pretty common, so this shouldn’t be too hard,” he pulls a blue bag of dry food off a higher shelf and hands it to Derek. “This is the good stuff. Alternate it with wet food every two to three days and he should be fine.”
“I’m going to put up posters tomorrow,” Derek tells him, reaching for something to prolong the exchange. “I’m sure someone’s looking for him.”
“You’re probably right. You’re kind of a hero for keeping him while you look and not turning him over to a shelter, you know. Most adult cats don’t make it out of there alive,” his eyes slide to the shoulder patch on Derek’s jacket and he chuckles. “Well, I guess you were already a hero. Now you’re a double hero, go you!”
An awkward silence descends between them when Derek doesn’t respond because, for the life of him, he can’t tell if the guy is flirting with him or is just naturally uncouth. He’s also wondering how weird it is that he wants to christen the guy ‘Whiskey’ in his mind.
The guy clears his throat and looks away. “Right.”
“I left out some milk for him, but he won’t touch it,” Derek blurts, trying his best to find some middle ground.
“Oh, god, don’t give him that,” he says, putting his hand out like he can physically stop Derek. “Most adult cats can’t break down the sugar enzymes in milk, and it gives them terrible diarrhea.” A horrified look crosses the guy’s face, and a deep flush creeps up his neck. “So yeah, no milk.”
“Are you a vet?” Derek asks, amused.
“Ah, almost,” he smiles shyly and bites his lip. “I’m in my final semester at the College for Supernatural Veterinary Medicine.”
“That’s a difficult area of study,” Derek says, surprised at the information.
“Yeah, it is,” he admits, rubbing the back of his neck. “But I’m pretty good at it. Hey, is that Boothbay Grey?”
Derek looks down at his paint-stained hands, where the guy is pointing. “Yeah, how did you know?”
He waves his hands in the air. “I have kind of a memory thing for colours. You painting your house?”
“The house I’m currently in, anyway. I flip them in my spare time.”
“Oh, cool. Well, that’s a great colour, just be careful because if you don’t use the right primer it can look dull. Unless you want it to be dull, then by all means, buy the cheapest primer you can find.”
Derek stares, more than a little taken with the guy’s ability to ramble. “It’s not actually the colour I’m going with. I have six different colours on the wall right now, and I just can’t seem to find the right one. It’s like I can see it in my head, but I can’t match it to anything I find.”
“Is it a newer house, or more traditional?”
“I’d go with something more grey-green than grey-blue, then. Like a Silver Eucalyptus, it will open up the room, but still keep it feeling warm, like your eyes,” the guy coughs loudly, clearly embarrassed. “Anyway, keep at it, it’ll come to you.”
Derek’s fangs lengthen, just a bit, and leans on the cart, letting his eyes change colour. “What about red? Is that warm enough?” He gets a thrill from the way the guy’s mouth drops open, soft and pink. Definitely worth a private nickname.
“Ah, um, red could totally work.” Whiskey nods, licking his lips. “If the shade is right.”
Derek huffs a laugh and lets the red fade slowly from his irises, pleased with the response. “You having a party?”
Whiskey blinks in confusion. “No, why?”
Derek nods to the giant tub of ice cream and the econo-size bottle of lube in his cart. Whiskey’s laugh is high-pitched and thin, but Derek can’t help but enjoy the shade of pink that returns to his cheeks.
“That...is going to last me a long time,” he explains, looking pained. “Don’t judge me.” He grabs a bag of dry food off the shelf, tossing it into his cart as he walks away. “Good luck with the cat!”
Derek chuckles to himself and wanders off, wondering how often the guy visits this particular store.