When Derek arrived at the Zoo bright and early, he expected to see nothing but the wolves lazily padding about in the dawn and maybe a bird flitting between the autumn-torn branches. He was banking on a nice quiet morning to finish outstanding paperwork and maybe get a start on –
Why the hell was there a box fort outside the office?
There was a yelp at the sudden noise. Stiles’ head appeared from within the fort, dirt streaked up one cheek. He grinned cheerily.
“Good Morning Sunshine!”
“What’re you doing?”
Stiles hefted a box, squeaking in surprise as the contents proved heavier than thought. “Helping Isaac move some stuff.” The metal stairs creaked as Stiles carefully stepped up them, “he’s just gone back to his car to get the rest.”
“More,” Derek repeated slowly, dread starting to build in his stomach. He heard the tell-tale squeak of the side door in the corner of his office and creak of the second set of stairs as Stiles made his way to the miniscule dwelling above. An echoed shout came out the tiny window.
“Yeah, you said he could stay here for a while.”
From the size of the stacks awaiting storage, Isaac was planning to stay longer than ‘a while’.
“I need to clear it with the night manager.”
“It’s fine, I got Dad to do it,” Stiles clattered back down the metal staircase and began sorting through the stacks. He shoved one of the weightier boxes towards Derek, “feel free to help.”
The choice seemed pretty minimal, so Derek grunted and hauled the box up the stairs. He stumbled over the top steps into his office, readjusted the box and began to make his way up the second set of stairs to Isaac’s new abode, staggering slightly along the way.
“Are these books? How long is he going to stay?”
“For as long as it takes for his Dad - ” Stiles tailed off hesitantly as Isaac made a reappearance, laden with more clutter to store away. “Like I said. A while.”
The door in the corner of Derek’s office that hid a narrow set of stairs had never seen so much traffic. The three spent a good hour tucking away more and more junk into the room which had previously held only a small bed and side table, but was now home to a mountain of boxes pressed against one of the poster coated walls, a blanket layered bed, a groaning bookcase and a desk crowded in the corner, laptop and books piled high on top.
As Isaac busied himself sorting away various knick-knacks, Derek yanked Stiles close and hissed in his ear.
“He can’t live here.”
“I know! It’stemporary. Hey, you aren’t going to be all ‘Derek’ about this?”
“No, I’m going to be legal, about this,” he drew away, suddenly aware of their intimate proximity, “And what do you mean ‘Derek’?”
“I mean – well, you. All, dare I say it, nice one minute then BAM, severe bruising for Stiles. You confuse the hell out of me.”
Derek just laughed. Because the hyperactive enigma with a strong sentimental streak and a surprisingly large intellect called Stiles thought Derek was confusing.
A few days later was Thanksgiving. Isaac had decided to hibernate all throughout the extra day off but Derek, having never cared much for the holiday, worked.
Surprisingly, Stiles had said it wasn’t a big deal in his house either and since they were short staffed, he was fine with working the day. ‘Stops my dad from feeling guilty about wanting to spend it with Melissa, anyway,’ he’d claimed as Derek led them down the very heart of the enclosure.
The wolves yipped and chased each other around as Derek and Stiles seated themselves, recording feeding times and breeding pairs with their feet dangling off the rock they perched on. It was surprisingly nice to just sit and watch the Pack with someone, even if said someone enjoyed keeping a running commentary on every. Damn. Thing.
“Aw, Ickle is chasing his tail!”
“Oh God that’s Carl isn’t it? Ugh! Bad Carl! Stay away! I want to go home without being peed on – have mercy you wolfy bastard!”
“Hey I think Nyctimus is trying it on with Darc – oh wait, never mind. She just bit him in the face.”
After a while, Derek didn’t even bother with telling him to shut up.
The sudden crackle of the radio which interrupted Stiles’ babble was a glaring intrusion. Even the wolves stopped their playing to stare at the noise, ears peaked in confusion.
“Happy Thanksgiving, Danny.”
Derek and Stiles replied in perfect synchronicity, which made Stiles snort with laughter, which in turn confused the wolves further, meaning their playing only grew more frenetic and joyous and yeah, Derek would admit they could be considered cute at that moment. Especially when Stiles decided to practice his howling and the pack replied to him, their own howls echoing far and throughout the bare stripped trees. The look of pure elation on Stiles’ face as they called to him was pretty … well, pretty.
And that was Derek’s Thanksgiving; he thought it was a pretty good one—even if it was lacking a turkey.
Three days after Thanksgiving, Lupa stopped eating. Five days after, he began to spend hours at a time lying on the floor, whining and whimpering in a terrifyingly familiar manner. Deaton came and went, prescribing complicated, hands-on care for the rest of the week.
Which meant Beacon Zoo’s resident lodger would have to find somewhere else to store his apparent library. Derek made his way up to the room as soon as Deaton listed the care required, intent on handling the issue of removing Isaac with utmost care.
“Isaac, you have to go. Now.”
Isaac’s eyes widened, looking aghast. He bunched the duvet in his hands as Derek mentally formulated a slightly less brutal request.
“Sorry, but I need to sleep here whilst Lupa is still sick and you’re too inexperienced to issue his night care,” Derek registered the posters and photos on the wall with a small sinking feeling. The kid was well and truly settled down. “You don’t have to move your stuff, it’s only for a few days.”
“Where will I go?”
Derek shrugged. After all it wasn’t his problem. Not. His Problem. Nope.
Isaac nodded, face frozen with a tight jaw, “y-yeah. Okay,” he dropped his head and Derek was sure he saw a tear slithering down the bridge of Isaac’s nose. “Sure.”
Right, so that wasn’t a normal reaction for a kid who’d just been informed that he was going home. Home was usual a free meals, laundry being done for you, unconditional love deal.
So why was Isaac acting like Derek just shot a puppy in the face?
“You can go home, right?”
His jaw was gritted so tight Derek was surprised Isaac could even make a sound.
“Do you want to?”
Isaac paused. Licked his lips. And shook his head.
Derek wasn’t a camp counsellor, okay? He was there to teach Isaac about being a competent and compassionate animal keeper – not to sort out his every issue.
So why he rifled in his pockets and chucked a key at Isaac, was pretty beyond him.
“My apartment key. Stay there for a few days while I’m here.”
Isaac stared at the object as if it were a thing of both beauty and utter mystery, “are you sure?” he asked, awestruck.
“Just don’t mess with my stuff.”
“I won’t! Promise.”
“Good. I’ll drop you off tonight and show you where everything is.”
“Great! Thank you.”
Derek, unsurprisingly, was no stranger to awkward silences, but the one humming around the room right then was so painfully obvious, even he couldn’t bring himself to ignore it. So he nodded behind him and said, “now go see if that meat order has come through.”
Isaac obligingly scrambled off the bed and went off, Derek’s keys jingling in his pocket. As soon as Isaac went downstairs, Stiles came jogging up them.
“That was nice.”
Was nothing sacred in this workplace?
Stiles seated himself on the top stair, inches away from Derek, “I mean the delivery needed some work, but the actual gesture? Nice.”
“I don’t need your approval for everything I do.”
It had meant to come out vaguely light hearted, but the comment when faced with Stiles’ genuine, friendly smile, just sounded snide. Stiles tilted his head as if to scrutinise Derek deeply. When he finally deigned to speak, Derek expected something almost profound considering the amount of contemplation Stiles had done before speaking.
Yet instead, he got:
“’Just don’t mess with my stuff.’ Man, that’s another one for the poetry book.”
The middle of November to the start of January was off-season for Beacon Zoo. It closed down, leaving only the keepers and a handful of admin staff to keep the place ticking over, yet every year, the zoo reopened for a few days in November – giving people who’d grown tired of the crowds at malls and stores the chance to experience a slightly more wholesome day out with the family.
It was always a bit of a shock to the system for all employees when the surge of activity burst up after their peaceful off-season slump, especially on the first day.
The morning was taken up by reintroducing a newly-healed Lupa to the pack, which also meant reintroducing Isaac to his ‘habitat,’ as Stiles had so fondly called it. The way both had happily scuttled back into their dwellings was oddly similar, and Derek couldn’t hold back a smirk when Stiles had muttered a ‘let’s hope he doesn’t start peeing on everything to remark his territory’ as Isaac began shoving clothes back into the room, grinning almost manically.
A small child then thought it prudent to start throwing candy over the fence and when Stiles had removed the sweet, it was discovered that they were the vile sugar-free sort which contained a sweetener substitute, Xylitol. In other words, the candy was chock full of wolf poison.
Headaches all around for the keepers, Deaton and Scott as they worked to figure out if any of the pack had ingested the substance.
Around lunchtime, two of the betas had started fighting a full-on battle for dominance. Some of the visitors had panicked and begun screaming that the wolves were going feral. Derek then had to deal with the wolves’ injuries whilst convincing Gerard via radio that there wasn’t a problem and no, it wasn’t necessary to send security down. Clearly the pack were going through some hierarchal shift and Derek resented the hell out of it.
By the time the last tourists had finished cooing over the ‘fluffy wolves,’ as they’d called them (no one mentioned the earlier bloodshed), Derek was pretty much exhausted. He slumped into his desk chair and then, with a small sigh, buried his face in his hands. He needed sleep. And a Tylenol. And maybe a drink.
Stiles peered down at Derek with apparent concern on his face.
“Same.” Stiles twisted the strap of his messenger bag. “Good day?”
“Guessed you might say that,” Stiles grinned nervously, fidgeting from foot to foot. After a minute or so of this awkward display, Derek splayed his hands out as if to say ‘anything else?’
Stiles noted the gesture with a shaky laugh.
“I meant to do this earlier but we got side tracked and – yeah. So, uh, I was getting some stuff out the attic yesterday and aside from a load of dust and my old toys and man, a PlayStation I ended up playing for five hours because I had some really awesome games - like Spryo, damn, 10 years on and I can still pulverise Ripto in a boss battle.”
Stiles must be better at small talk than that. He really must be.
“I found - well, my Mom was an artist and she did a lot of wildlife drawings, you know, of wolves and stuff. I always thought she just copied out of books but - maybe she actually saw some real ones?” He drew a photo frame out of his bag. “Mom’s the one in the middle.”
It was a picture of a pretty woman with warmly familiar eyes. On her left was a man, broad and grinning. Her right was a beaming woman with a shock of dark hair.
“I thought you might know something about it, since on the back it says ‘Hale Pack’.”
Derek slowly took the picture in his hand. His mother laughed widely back at him whilst his father just grinned his familiar, crooked grin.
“Yeah," he said, swallowing, "these are my parents.”
Stiles face bloomed from casual ease to ecstatic grin. He laughed.
“I knew it!”
All of the family pictures, few as there were, perished in the fire. Derek gripped the frame a little tighter.
“I took the picture, actually.”
“No way. So you met my mom?”
“Yeah. She was nice.”
Derek recalled the day. It was before things started to sour. The woman had turned up at the front door, clutching a large pad of paper. She’d asked – shyly, but with a sweet smile – if she could possibly observe the wolves, because creatures like that were too beautiful not to draw.
Derek had liked her instantly.
His mom had shown the woman (who’d thanked them profusely and said ‘Call me Rianne’) out to the fields and woods, pointing to areas frequented by the wolves. His dad had made lunch, and all of them - Derek included – had sat outside in the sunshine, eating, talking and drawing until Rianne had said she needed to get back to her little boy.
She wanted to meet him at school because it was his birthday.
As Derek talked, Stiles’ smile grew wider and wider. Though it was nothing in comparison to the smile Derek felt when Stiles nodded at the picture and said, “Keep it. Please.”
When Derek moved back into his apartment that evening, the picture took pride of place on his mantle. He wasn’t much for decorating – in fact, he would’ve stuck with the furniture that came with the place had it not flooded and been ruined – so the personal touch seemed to leap out in the non-descript room.
But had he not been so absorbed in the picture he might’ve noticed his phone flashing for attention.
1 new message, unknown number
And had he bothered to read the message and not stayed gently tracing the edges of the photograph with his thumb, he would’ve been treated to a jolt which was both a flare of anger and a painful punch to the gut.
See you tomorrow, Angel.