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Care And Feeding

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Contrary to popular belief, Derek does have a little tact. Which is why he pulls the office door shut behind himself before he tells Scott that his best friend absolutely, emphatically, has to go.

"I want to fire him," he says, and that doesn't sound strong enough, so he tries again. "I need to fire him. I need him removed from this building. I can fire volunteers, right?"

"Dude, what the hell," Scott says, and tosses a clipboard down on his desk, not caring about the loud clattering noise it makes, even though there are a bunch of stressed-out feral momma cats right across the hall. "Now you want to fire our volunteers. You suck at this, Derek. I know Stiles isn't everybody's favorite person but he's my favorite person, okay? And he was doing fine an hour ago until Danny handed him off to you, so I know this isn't about his competence. What's your problem, man?"

Derek isn't actually sure where to begin with his problems. One of them is Scott himself, because Derek loves Scott like a brother, kind of wants to be Scott's best friend, and Scott hates him. He gets that. He knows he isn't the easiest guy to get along with, and the two of them got off on the wrong foot so spectacularly when they first met that he's pretty sure they're never going to get beyond the 'coolly professional' stage. He knows he's making things worse with this, but right now he has a bigger problem than his icy relationship with Scott, and that problem's name is Stiles Stilinski. If Derek doesn't do something about this, he's going to have to quit, and maybe move to a remote wilderness and become a hermit and never speak to another living soul again.

He can't say all that though, because Scott is giving him a look that makes Derek's soul shrivel up and die a little. So what he actually says is, "I can't— he keeps saying things. I'm losing it. I can't sit in that room with him anymore. Scott, please. Just take over his training for me. I'm begging you."

Scott huffs, scowls down at his desk, and Scott McCall is an actual ray of sunshine, everybody love Scott, but Derek is really familiar with all of his angry I'd-happily-leave-you-to-die faces. It's depressing. More depressing than the rest of Derek's life, even, which means the whole situation is incredibly bleak.

"I've got a lot of paperwork to do," Scott says, with that solid-stone set to his jaw like he refuses to be swayed. "And then the ferals—"

"I'll do it," Derek blurts out, even though he emphatically does not want to do it. He hates paperwork, and the feral cats hate him even more than Scott does. If he does Scott's work and his own, he's going to be here for at least an extra two hours, unpaid, and all to unload an impossible volunteer on somebody who won't mind at all being in his presence.

It'll be worth it. God, it will be so worth it.

"I'll finish your paperwork for you. And I'll take care of the ferals. I'll do all the gruel feedings in the blue room."

"Medical log says the entire litter in kennel seventeen need enemas," Scott suggests, with a raised eyebrow.

God. Part of the reason Derek loves Scott is because he's so fucking useful. His other part-time job is as a vet tech at Dr. Deaton's, and he's frighteningly good at getting kittens to shit. Enemas are the kinds of things that Derek usually pawns off on him.

Derek only grimaces a little when he says, "Yeah, I'll do that, too."

"You're an asshole," Scott says, which seems to mean yes. He gets up and shoves the clipboard into Derek's chest, then pushes past into the hallway, headed up front to check on Stiles, who Derek has trustingly left to his own devices for the past five minutes in the green room. The hallway smells pretty bad, like cat shit and stale urine; the ferals are due for a thorough cleaning — Derek's going to be handling it by himself now — but the gruelers in blue are already late for their meals, and there's a little guy in there with an eye infection who's about ready for another dose of meds, too. They don't have any other volunteers, not for the next hour, so Derek will be blessedly alone, in the blue room, quietly feeding kittens all by himself, just as nature and his own profound lack of social skills intended.

What he doesn't count on is the fact that nothing but two open doors and a few feet of empty space separate him from Stiles and Scott in the green room, he can still hear every word Stiles says. In fact, it's actually worse that he's out of sight but not out of earshot.

At first it's no big deal, and Derek foolishly thinks he can handle it. While he's setting up his feeding station and mixing wet cat food and warm formula into a disgusting kitten-weaning porridge, he can hear Scott and Stiles exchanging greetings, Stiles asking Scott completely on-task questions about getting a kitten latched onto the bottle, Scott reminding Stiles to take a post-feeding weight measurement.

Derek's just sitting down his first kitten to feed when he hears Stiles say, "Hey, what happened to Derek? I scare him off already?"

There's a pause that goes on just a second too long, and Derek's only known Stiles for an hour but he can sort of imagine what Stiles' face is probably doing, as he realizes he actually has scared Derek off. Derek, for his part, kind of wants to sink through his chair, and then through the floor, and then down and down to the center of the earth where it's hot enough that he can fucking die.

"Derek's a dick," Scott says. The tone of his voice is low and heartfelt, but he's not exactly making an effort to keep Derek from hearing him, either. "He's seriously the worst with volunteers. Like the worst ever. I shouldn't have left you with him in the first place."

"He's not so bad," Stiles says, after another pause, and Scott snorts, and then they're talking about some movie they saw the night before, and Derek can blessedly tune it out, for awhile, as he syringes gruel down the throat of an unhappy, round-bellied tabby.

He gets in maybe fifteen minutes of harmonious productivity before Stiles starts talking directly to the kittens again, and Derek is stuck in his own personal hell, a gruel-splattered kitten in his hands, another four in the litter to take care of before he can even think about finding an excuse to flee to the other end of the building, and Stiles' voice drifting over, disembodied, from the next room.

That voice is low, smooth and cajoling as he says, "Come on, just open your mouth. That's it, good boy. Now just suck on it."

There's a reason Derek's been going slowly insane, and now it's so much worse, because he can't see what Stiles is doing — the perfectly innocent things Stiles is actually doing — but his brain is happy to supply some scenes of what he's like Stiles to be doing. There'll be a smile on his face, probably, the same soft, encouraging one Derek's already seen, only this time he'll be pressing his thumb to the hinge of Derek's jaw, urging Derek to open his mouth, and Derek will be looking up from his knees, and Stiles will be saying "good boy" to Derek this time, when Derek leans forward to—

Well. It's a good thing there's nobody else in the room, because Derek's got more kittens to feed and he's got to get up from the table, even if he's hard as fucking rock in his khakis. Jesus. He's not proud, he gives some serious thought to curling up in the corner of the room and just crying it out.

He's going to have to live with nearly an hour of it, before Stiles' volunteer shift is over, and he's not sure he's going to make it. There is literally nothing erotic about any of this, except Stiles' voice drifting over from the next room like the audio track on a fucking porno, and Derek is so confused and turned on and tormented that he isn't actually sure how to function. He forgets to take pre-feeding weights three times in a row, forgets which kittens he's already fed twice and has to re-check his log sheets, and tries to feed the same kitten twice before he realizes why it's not eating. He's a disaster.

Stiles says things like, "I'm going to touch your butt now, but don't worry, I've been told I'm very good at it," and "It's not that hard, dude, just open your mouth and let me put it in," and "Yeah, fucking suck it, man, you can do it."

It's the last one that makes Derek lose it completely. He's reaching out to put a post-meal drowsy little gray kitten into the bucket for weighing, and he hears Stiles' voice purring those words, fucking suck it, and instead of getting the kitten into the bucket, he manages to knock the bucket over, sends it flying off the scale and onto the metal tabletop before it rolls with a hollow metallic clatter onto the floor. For good measure, the scale takes a header too, busts open when it hits the floor, the battery door flying off, batteries ricocheting beneath the row of kennels. The noise wakes up kittens who had been peacefully sleeping, and they all start hollering for attention and food like they're eager to devour the last scraps of Derek's dignity.

The running commentary from across the hall stops abruptly, and there's a sound like a chair sliding back, somebody standing up, footsteps.

Derek clutches the gray kitten to his chest, and she doesn't seem to fully understand the situation, because she just curls herself against his sternum, purring like mad, happy to be cradled in his hands even if he's maybe holding her a little too tight. She seems to actually like it, when he slowly curls himself around her, hunching over in his chair, until his forehead meets with the cool metal surface of the table — he's going to have to disinfect his own forehead later, there is truly no limit to this day's humiliations. When Derek shuts his eyes, for a moment, it's like he actually has the power to disappear.

He doesn't, of course. He's still there, in reality, hunched in on himself like a shell-less turtle, when Scott comes in, retrieves the bucket from the floor, sprays it with disinfectant, and sits it back on the table.

"Dude," he says. It's disapproval and bafflement all wrapped up into one ridiculous word.

"I can't deal with this," Derek says, quietly, to the floor. He still hasn't looked up. The kitten is kneading her paws against his chest and sucking on the front of his surgical gown, looking for another meal. It's too fucking cute. That's the problem with this job, Derek decides, is that kittens are entirely too cute, and Stiles' broad hands are entirely too appealing when he's holding them, and his face looks too soft and gentle when he's feeding them, and Derek's going to either die right here, right now, or he's going to adopt eight thousand cats and die much later, sad and alone. They're going to put "dead because he couldn't talk to a cute boy like a normal human being" on his gravestone. His sisters probably already have the font picked out and everything.

"Dude," Scott repeats, with a whole different inflection this time, and Derek thought it couldn't get worse but apparently it can because one of Scott's many stellar and sparkling qualities is that he's fucking perceptive. "Are you—? Seriously?"

"He keeps saying things," Derek repeats miserably, in a low mumble he hopes Stiles can't hear.

Not that it matters, because the next thing Scott says, in a voice that is decidedly not pitched for privacy, is, "Holy shit, you're totally into Stiles."

From the next room, there is conspicuous, deafening silence. Even the kittens in the green room have stopped their meowing, like they're riveted by the unfolding drama.

Derek is done with conversations and civilization, so he just whimpers. Words are for people who have their shit together, and Derek is not one of those people. He may never speak again. That way lies mortification and terror.

"You are so pathetic," Scott says, but it's not genuine and just a little angry like his insults usually are, it's almost fond. Almost. There's a snap of latex gloves going on, and then Scott pushes Derek upright in his chair and plucks the kitten from his hands. "How many more in this litter?"

"Just the lynx point," Derek says, morose, resentful of being made to speak.

"Fine," Scott says. "I'll take care of the rest in here. And the meds. And the enemas. You're still doing the feral room, though."

Derek blinks. "Okay," he says, and waits for more instructions, because he can't be trusted to run his own life. "You mean now?"

Scott sighs and rolls his eyes elaborately. He puts the gray kitten back into the kennel and then pauses long enough to put on a gown himself, so he can take over where Derek's left off. "No, Derek. Now you go back across the hall and help Stiles, and if you're not a total idiot you ask him out."

"I can't do that," Derek says, because he can't, it's the worst idea he's ever heard. "Scott, I asked you to switch with me so I wouldn't end up sexually harassing him."

Scott shrugs, hip-checks Derek toward the door, and says, "Get out of my way, I need to feed this kitten. And I'm pretty sure Stiles wants to be sexually harassed by you, so do something about it. I've got enough to do without this crap, seriously."

Derek pauses in the doorway long enough to strip off his gown and gloves, toe off his disposable shoe covers and rub some sanitizer between his palms, before he crosses the hall, one hesitant step at a time, to check in on Stiles. He doesn't know what to say, doesn't have the first idea what he's doing, and he doesn't know if he's welcome, no matter what Scott says.

But when he walks in, there's a five-day-old kitten in Stiles' hands that's dwarfed by the length of his fingers and the breadth of his palms, and something in Derek's chest just seizes up. He's pretty sure it's his heart and it's maybe growing three sizes. He searches for something to say, anything at all, and doesn't find a single word.

He doesn't really need to, though, as it turns out. Stiles looks up and grins, waggles his eyebrows, says, "You wanna help me out?" and if he just wants help with the kittens, that is what Derek's here for. But if he also wants help later, maybe, wants Derek to help do the dishes after dinner, wants Derek to help him move, wants Derek's hand around his cock and Derek's presence in his life, well.

All Derek has to do is keep saying yes, and that seems simple enough. He pulls a couple of fresh latex gloves from the box, unfolds a fresh gown, plucks another tiny kitten from the litter Stiles is working on, sits down at the table, and says, "Yes," to everything.