Stiles is drunk, yes, but that doesn’t quite explain the baby goat trying to stand on wobbly legs on the bar.
Stiles looks around, each movement exaggerated and slow, because he’s trying to be stealthy, trying to see if anybody else has noticed the goat, or if maybe he’s hallucinating.
No one else is looking at the goat, but that doesn’t mean much. Lydia is looking at her phone, popping her gum, Kira’s in the bathroom, and Erica is on the stage, warbling along to Someone Like You. The rest of the bar is empty – probably because it’s a Tuesday night, this bar is in a tiny town at least an hour away from Beacon Hills, and it’s nearly 1 am. It’s also Kira’s bachelorette party, and hitting every bar in Beacon County was Erica’s idea.
The goat, though. That’s new.
Stiles blinks at the goat slowly and the goat bleats, a shaky, helpless sound. Stiles’ eyes narrow and his hands close into fists because no baby goat should sound that sad. Especially in a bar at nearly one in the morning.
“I’m selling this goat,” says the man who’d sauntered in with the poor goat tucked under his arm. “Only one week old. What do you say we put it up for auction to pay my tab?” He chuckles like the goat is a joke.
Goats are never jokes.
And the bartender rolls his eyes and pours the man a beer and says, “No goats allowed, Bertus. You know that.”
Like this is a regular fucking thing.
Not on Stiles’ watch.
He stands up abruptly, his barstool toppling over, and Lydia doesn’t even look up from her phone. Stiles doesn’t care. He doesn’t need the back up. He can totally handle this dude, who is at least a foot taller than him and built wide and solid.
Stiles digs through his pocket and grabs all the money he can find, dumping it on the bar. It’s approximately $37.08.
“Sold,” he says, and Bertus is staring, and so is the bartender. The goat slips on the bar and tumbles onto its side with another cry, and Stiles scoops it up before it can try getting up again.
He backs away from Bertus, from the bartender, clutching the tiny goat against his chest, eyes narrowed warningly, but no one seems inclined to give chase. Bertus just watches with wide eyes, piece of hay hanging from his lax mouth.
“His tab’s at least six times that much,” the bartender says finally, and Stiles growls, low.
He’s not a werewolf. He’s still soft, defenseless Stiles. But maybe he looks a little feral. Either way, Bertus shoves the pile of cash (and a few rogue skittles) at the bartender and says, “Whatever.”
So Stiles sits beside Lydia and snuggles the goat against his chest, stroking its fur, which curls around his fingers. The goat is tawny brown and splotchy, with a little white star on its forehead, and it pushes its little face against his throat and shivers for a while, before seeming to relax and fall asleep curled up against his chest moments later.
Stiles just keeps cuddling it and humming Mary Had a Little Lamb. It’s not a lamb, but he can’t think of any songs about goats, so it’s the best he’s got.
“Uhm,” Kira says when she gets back from the bathroom.
Stiles looks up just as Lydia does. She blinks. “That’s a goat,” she says.
Stiles hugs the goat closer. “My goat,” he clarifies. “Nettle.”
The thing is, when the bar closes at 2 AM, Bertus comes to collect Stiles’ goat.
“Give it,” he says, holding out his big, grubby hands.
Stiles hugs Nettle against his chest and makes a wounded noise in his throat.
“Uh, I don’t think so,” says Erica, getting to her feet. She’d be pretty imposing even if she wasn’t wearing massive heels. “That’s our goat now.”
Bertus is drunk and he’s probably going to get violent and Stiles is pretty sure Lydia, Kira and Erica can handle him, but he’s worried that Nettle might get caught in the crossfire.
And then Bertus says to the bartender, “Call the cops, he’s stealing my goat!” and Erica growls – she’s much better at it than Stiles is.
But either way, Stiles needs to get out of there, fast, if he wants to make sure Nettle never has to go home with someone stupid enough to think a baby goat is a funny thing to bring to a bar.
So he takes off for the door and Bertus shouts and Erica growls again and a chair goes flying and Stiles barely escapes with his life.
Nettle bleats sadly and Stiles says, “I know, baby, I know.”
And then he runs for the pay phone he can see lit up by the road, because there’s only one person who can help them now.
Derek isn’t a bachelor party kind of guy. He made an appearance at Scott’s, wished them well on their trek to the strippers somewhere, and then went home, made some hot cocoa, put his fluffiest slippers on, and curled up in his favourite armchair for a Netflix marathon of Suits.
He fell asleep a few hours later, and is jarred awake when his cell goes off at 2am.
It’s an unknown number, which is never good. Telemarketers generally don’t call at 2am.
“What?” Derek snaps, already kicking his slippers off. “Where are you?”
There’s loud breathing for a moment, and then Stiles’ voice, deep, slurred and muffled, says, “Derek. Derek, I need you.”
His eyes narrow. “You’re drunk. Where are you?” He listens, and he can hear the distant sounds of shouting, of growling, of furniture breaking. Fuck.
“Shhh, Derek, shhh. You’ll scare Nettle.”
“Who the fuck—where are you? Where’s Erica?”
“Fighting Bertus,” Stiles says. He sounds distracted like he’s wandering away.
“Hey,” Derek snaps. “Stiles. Where are you?”
“Oh,” he says. “Right, uhm. Fox and Hound, east of Beacon Hills. I think. You know, where the – they sometimes, with the farmer’s market, on Sundays, the eggs and the scented candles and the honey, and Scott – shh, Nettle, shh.”
“I’ll be right there.”
He goes to hang up, but Stiles says suddenly, brightly, “Derek, Derek hurry. I stole a goat.”
When Derek pulls up to the Fox and Hound, a derelict little pub in a tiny town in Beacon County, there’s a police car idling outside with a massive, intoxicated man in the back seat, still bellowing about goat theft. Lydia, looking as polished as ever, is flipping her hair over her shoulder and smiling up at the deputy interviewing her about the altercation. Erica is standing nearby, looking bored, and Kira is sitting on the curb, idly toeing a few pebbles in the gutter. Stiles is nowhere to be found.
Derek gets out of his car and Erica straightens up, eyes going wide. “Derek,” she says. “What are you doing here?”
“Sir, this is a police matter,” says the deputy. “Unless you were involved, I’m going to have to ask you to wait at your vehicle until we’re finished speaking to the ladies.”
He wants to bristle, to snap something about being there to support them, but Stiles isn’t there, and Erica seems to be trying to telegraph some sort of message to him with her eyebrows and very subtle jerks of her head.
“Okay,” he says slowly. “I was just concerned, but if everyone here is okay, I suppose I can just…”
“Totally,” Erica interrupts. “Just go on home, we’ll be there shortly. It was all just a misunderstanding. Take the long way, even, if you want. Lydia’s our designated driver, she’ll take us home, we’ll tell you all about it in the morning. Okay?”
Lydia smiles at him and the deputy nods his thanks and Derek backs away, frowning.
He gets back in his car, waves a little, and sees Erica’s nod when he doesn’t head back the way he came, heading farther from Beacon Hills instead – taking the long way.
As soon as the pub is out of sight, he slows down, rolls down his window, and breathes deeply. Without the overwhelming scent of the pub, it’s much easier to pick out Stiles’ scent – as muddied as it is with rum.
He stops the car when the scent is particularly strong and he can hear Stiles’ heartbeat, though he cannot see him. Derek gets out of the car, narrowing his eyes as he studies the tall, rippling wild wheat in the ditch and up the embankment, gradually giving way to new forest.
“Stiles?” he calls.
There’s a ripple in the grass, and the sound of denim on denim and Stiles’ heart rate picks up, and then he’s stumbling to his feet, abandoning his hiding place in the grass.
“Derek,” he says, voice hushed. Probably so as not to wake the sleeping goat in his arms.
Derek blinks. “You stole a fucking goat.”
Stiles smiles, his lopsided, sunny, drunk grin. “Told you,” he says.
“That thing is not getting in my car.”
Stiles just chuckles and walks right past Derek, throwing the passenger seat door open and crawling into it, goat still sleeping against his chest. “Hurry,” he says. “We’ve gotta get out of here before the cops find us.”
“Pretty sure they’re not looking for you,” Derek says, but he gets into the car, turns the heat on low because the goat (and Stiles) are fucking shivering, and takes the long way home.
Both the goat and Stiles are fast asleep by the time they get there, and the sun is starting to lighten up the sky in the east.
Stiles feels like death. He feels like a small woodland creature crawled inside his mouth in the night, made a nest of cotton, and then died there.
He rolls over with a groan and someone kind and considerate has left a bottle of water and some Advil on the bedside table. He swallows two tablets and drains the bottle before stumbling out of his bedroom to greet the day.
The day is a shitty one, he decides, head swimming, gut churning as he uses the bathroom.
He’s about to give up on the day and stagger back to bed when a strange sound catches his attention. Soft little footsteps, in the kitchen – it almost sounds like a cat.
Trust Stiles to go out for a night on the town and come home with a cat, he thinks, following the source of the noise.
It’s not a cat.
“No, I’m serious, my landlord doesn’t let me have fish, he’s not gonna let me keep a goat,” Stiles says shrilly, eyeing the creature who is wandering the kitchen, butting its tiny baby horns – just nubs, really – against the kitchen counters and bleating.
There’s a trail of goat shit on his goddamned floor.
“That’s Nettle,” Scott says, far too chipper. “I’m on my way over now.”
“To take the goat?” he asks hopefully.
“With powdered colostrum and a bunch of bottles Deaton says you can borrow. Poor thing’s probably starving.”
The goat -- Nettle -- bahs again and kicks its little hooves against the lino before looking up at Stiles with wide eyes.
Stiles turns away quickly, because even hungover and bitchy as fuck, he is not immune to helpless baby animals, but he cannot have a goat in his apartment!
Nettle gently butts against the back of his leg.
“Hurry,” Stiles says.
“Nettle’s a girl!” Scott announces, putting the panicking, squealing goat back on the floor, where she scrambles as far away from Scott as she can get before turning and making a big show of flashing her velvety horns at him.
“Kira probably loves goats,” Stiles says, casual.
“Nah.” He frowns. “She’s a mystical fox spirit, Stiles. I’m pretty sure she eats goats for breakfast.”
“You’re a werewolf! You love all animals! You should probably take her home.”
Scott ignores him, trying to coax Nettle to come closer, but Nettle is terrified.
“She’s just a baby,” Scott says quietly, getting to his feet and giving up on winning Nettle over. “A few weeks at most. At this point, you’re the closest thing to a mother she’s got. We can’t just take that from her, she needs stability right now. And you’re right. I’m a wolf – pretty much everyone you know has some mystical side that’ll make Nettle uncomfortable and scared.” Scott looks at Stiles with wide, puppy eyes, and son of a bitch. Stiles isn’t immune, not to Scott, not to baby goats. He’s a total pushover. “She needs you, Stiles. At least until she’s weaned.”
Stiles looks down at the wary goat. He vaguely remembers, through a haze of alcohol and darkness, how Nettle had come to be in that stupid bar last night, and yeah. Stiles can’t really abandon an animal in need.
“I’ll clean up the shit if you keep her,” Scott adds.
In the end, it’s a bit like Stiles imagines having a puppy might be. Nettle hops around on her own, exploring and playing, and when she’s hungry or sleepy, she seeks Stiles out and curls up beside him on the couch or in bed, probably craving warmth, but who knows. Maybe she does think Stiles is her mama now. Who is he to break the heart of such an adorable if unorthodox puppy?
He’s always wanted a dog.
So he feeds her and she begins to associate his apartment with “home” after only a day or two and starts shitting outside when they go for walks, which is awesome, because Kira was getting pretty sick of Scott being on call to clean up accidents.
And Stiles, for all his posturing, really is helpless in the face of adorable baby animals.
Three days after stealing Nettle from an angry farmer in a bar, Stiles can’t even remember his life without a constant bahing companion gamboling along after him in his apartment, on walks down the street and through the preserve, or peering out the window from the passenger seat on trips to visit Deaton or Stiles’ dad (who had resolutely never asked where the hell Stiles got a goat, particularly upon reading a report of a notorious petting zoo proprietor claiming he had lost one. Apparently Bertus’ petting zoo had been shut down three times over the past seven years for animal neglect complaints).
The best part, though, is on the third day, when Scott sends Derek over with the powdered goat food, because as soon as Stiles opened the door, Nettle is bleating furiously and ramming her velvety horns repeatedly against Derek’s shins.
“You trained your goat to guard the door,” Derek says flatly, staring down at the little goat.
“Dude, no,” Stiles cries, laughing as he scoops Nettle up. “She usually hides when a wolf comes through the door. Unless it’s you, apparently. Then she attacks.” Which makes it even better.
Derek scowls and comes inside, dropping the bag of goat food on the counter and then turning to go.
“Wait,” Stiles says, sliding between him and the door. “Wait. I didn’t get a chance to thank you, for rescuing me and Nettle that night.”
Derek lifts an eyebrow. “I didn’t have much of a choice,” he says. “You called me from the payphone, I thought you were in trouble.”
“I called… right.” Stiles frowns. He’d forgotten that. “Well. I was in trouble, if you remember. I was hiding in a ditch with a stolen goat.”
“I remember.” Derek glares pointedly, but Stiles doesn’t move out of the way.
“No, but seriously. You should stay. We gotta acclimatize Nettle to you. We can’t have her going all violent whenever you’re around, that’s just not fair. What happens when she gets big?”
“She’s a miniature goat,” Derek says, rolling his eyes. “It’s still not going to hurt.”
Stiles hesitates and then says, “Okay, then listen. I need to run to the store, we’re running out of groceries, and I haven’t had anything to eat but mac and cheese for two days, and I can’t leave her home alone because she’s just a baby, and I can’t bring her with me because they kicked us out when I tried, and I can’t leave her in the car because do you know how quickly the interior of a car heats up? She could die! And I can’t tie her outside because someone could steal her, and I—”
“You want me to goatsit for you.”
Stiles makes his eyes go wide. If it works for Nettle and Scott, maybe it’ll work for him. “Please?”
For a long moment, it looks like Derek might be immune, and then he rolls his eyes again and looks away. “Fine. You have half an hour. If you’re not back by then, I’m leaving.”
It takes twenty minutes for Stiles to finish instructing Derek on everything from preparing the formula to the shows Nettle likes to fall asleep to before he can get out the door, but Stiles knows one thing for sure: Derek is even more unwilling to abandon a helpless creature in need, so he totally won’t leave before Stiles gets back. Hopefully.
When Derek was a kid, he loved befriending animals he discovered in the woods by his home – the fluffier the better. The fact that he was a werewolf made it a little tough to convince chipmunks, squirrels, bunnies and foxes to trust him, but he spent hours coaxing them with treats, sitting as still as he could for hours and hours until he had birds and chipmunks eating out of the palms of his hands.
Nettle, however, won’t stop trying to bite him. When she can’t get close enough to his fingers for biting, she’s head butting him.
And Derek can’t really coax her with treats when all she can eat is goat formula for a bottle – which she won’t let him close enough to give her.
So basically, this goatsitting mission is doomed from the start.
So Derek does what Derek does best and ignores the stupid goat, and watches TV, and watches the clock and then, when half an hour slips by, he gets restless and decides to do the dishes. And clean the kitchen. And throw in some laundry because everything is starting to smell like goat.
It’s been an hour and Stiles isn’t back yet, but Nettle has given up on her barrage of attacks, and is now watching him warily from across the room, pacing on tiny hooves. So Derek mixes up a bottle of formula and sits down on the floor and turns the TV back on – the Backyardigans this time, which Stiles had said always puts Nettle to sleep.
And then he ignores her some more. But the bottle is there, in his hand, and her favourite blanket is there too, the one he hadn’t washed because he knows the importance of familiar scents to orphaned animals.
And twenty minutes later, Nettle creeps closer, and Derek keeps his breathing steady and his heartbeat steady so even though he smells of predator, he doesn’t make her think he sees her as prey.
And then she nudges at the bottle and leaps back, watching for a reaction. She doesn’t get one, so she comes closer, nudging at it again, and licking it warily. He just keeps holding it for her, loose and easy, and once she finally starts eating, she seems to forget all about keeping guard, especially when Derek holds himself relaxed and still.
When her little belly is full, she bleats softly, but Derek is warm, warmer even than Stiles, and she’s sleepy now, and her blankie is right there. So she casts one last wary glare at him and then curls up against his thigh, sleeping moments later.
And Derek isn’t grinning. He doesn’t care one way or the other. He’s got no time for baby animals or baby goats or anything at all.
Nettle doesn’t even wake when he gently scoops her up and moves to the couch, tucking her blanket around her as she nudges against his neck, sleeping in the crook of Derek’s arm.
And he’s still not grinning. But if he’s smiling a little, a soft, little smile, well. There’s no one there to see.
Derek is going to kill him. If he’s even still there. Stiles is so dead. He’d run to the store and then he’d run by his dad’s work for a minute and then he’d stopped by Scott’s work, and Scott had begged him to pick up the wedding programs that had been delivered to the post office that would close before Scott got off work, and now he was finally rushing home, but it has been so much longer than half an hour.
Derek’s car is still parked outside, which is a relief.
Stiles bursts into the apartment, arms loaded with groceries, and then he freezes.
He expected a lot of things. Mayhem, destruction, rage, goats running amuck. He hadn’t expected to find Derek curled up asleep with Nettle.
He closes the door softly, but at the click of the latch, Derek sits up, blinking sleepily and looking confused. Nettle bleats in protest, tangled up in her blanket and struggling to get free, and Derek manages to catch her before she tumbles off the couch.
“You’re back,” Derek says. He blinks again. “You’re late.”
“You’re sleeping with my goat,” Stiles says.
Nettle hops off the couch and skips over to headbutt Stiles in the shins affectionately, but Stiles can’t quite look away from Derek, who’s flustered and blushing and still has lines on his cheek from where he rested it against his forearm.
Derek leaves soon after.
It’s all going perfectly – too perfectly – and then Stiles’ landlord realizes he’d smuggled a pet into his apartment. And not just any pet. A farm animal.
He comes home from walking Nettle to find a note taped to the door informing him that there will be an inspection in 24 hours and if any signs of rogue animals are found, Stiles would be evicted. He can appeal, the note explains, but apparently one of Stiles’ backstabbing neighbours already has pictures of him leaving the building with Nettle, so the inspection is just a formality.
He’s either got to move or get rid of the goat, and there isn’t an apartment in Beacon Hills that’ll let him keep a goat.
“Fuck,” Stiles says, scooping Nettle up and glaring at the closed doors in his hallway. He snatches the note off his door and storms inside, trying to think of what to do.
He can’t get rid of Nettle, obviously. Where would she go? Who would feed her?
But he can’t keep her here. And he doesn’t have time to move.
So he calls his dad, explains the situation, and the sheriff sighs. “There’s not much we can do, Stiles,” he says gently. “Turning a blind eye to a goat is one thing. I can’t interfere with bylaw enforcement, which includes allowing you to keep Nettle at my place. I’m inside the Beacon Hills township boundary. If there are complains, I can’t help you.”
Stiles closes his eyes. “But dad,” he says.
“We can find somewhere for her,” the sheriff says. “A nice farm, or a sanctuary.”
“The last farm she belonged to decided it would be a great idea to bring her to a bar at 1 in the morning and auction her off to pay a bar tab.”
“We’ll figure something out.”
Short of changing the bylaws, Stiles isn’t sure what can be done.
Derek’s in the pet store, trying to decide if baby goats would prefer squeaky plush toys or tug-a-war ropes, when his phone rings. It’s Stiles.
“You’re not home,” Stiles says, without waiting for an answer. It sounds like an accusation.
“Was I expecting you?” Derek asks dryly, because Stiles doesn’t really… stop by unannounced. No one does. He likes it that way.
“No,” Stiles says. “But where do you go during the day, anyway? You don’t have a job, or a girlfriend – do you have a girlfriend?”
“What do you want, Stiles?”
“Tea?” he asks hopefully.
Derek sighs, tossing a squeaky giraffe and a purple rope into his basket. “I’ll be there in twenty minutes. There’s a key under the mat.”
“Under the – you are the least security-conscious werewolf I’ve ever met,” Stiles scolds. “I’m going to put a conveniently-placed stone in your garden, or a bird house, or a—”
Derek hangs up, rolling his eyes, without bothering to remind Stiles that he can deal with anyone he doesn’t want entering his house. Besides, if they meant him harm, he doubts they’d bother looking around for a key before smashing the door in.
The Backyardigans are playing when Derek gets home, and he can hear Stiles talking as he unlocks the door, but his voice is small and shaking.
“It’s not so bad, see?” he says. “There’s lots of room to run in here, and outside too, and I know Derek will protect you – he protects everyone. Well, he tries. Sometimes –”
Derek drops his groceries noisily on the floor to stop that monologue before it can pick up any momentum, and says, “You’re crying.” It’s not what he meant to say. He meant to demand answers, ask what the newest threat was, figure out why the fuck Stiles needs him, because Stiles doesn’t drop by unless he needs him.
But the sight of Stiles cradling a stupid baby goat and struggling not to cry apparently derails all his intentions.
Stiles blinks at him. “I’m not,” he says, despite the fact that his eyes are bright with tears. “I mean, yeah, I’m a little teary, but I’m not like, sobbing or anything. One manly tear never hurt anybody.”
Derek rolls his eyes and starts putting the groceries, pretending he’s not concerned. He’s gotten pretty good at hiding his concern. “What’s wrong? Where’s Scott? Don’t you usually go to Scott when you need to—you know. Be emotional.”
Stiles blinks again. “Scott can’t help me,” he says. “He says he’s a predator and goats won’t ever like him or Kira, and that Kira will eat Nettle if she has a chance because she’s a fox and that’s what foxes do.”
He holds Nettle up a little higher, so her adorable little furry face is at Derek’s eye level, so he can get the full effect of her massive golden eyes, blinking at him, and her little nose, and her droopy ears and –
Fuck, Derek is a sucker for baby animals.
He huffs but scoops the little goat out of Stiles’ arms and cuddles her close, glaring at Stiles the whole time. “I’m a predator too,” he says, as Nettle, clearly remembering him, bahs softly and starts chewing on the collar of his shirt.
“Sure you are, Sourwolf,” Stiles says, but it’s lacking the sarcasm he’s usually got up like a defensive shield. And then, even as Derek watches, something cracks and Stiles’ eyes are welling up all over again and he turns away quickly, so Derek can just see his back.
Stiles clears his throat. “Nettle likes you,” he says, voice rough. He walks to the window, casual.
“Stiles,” Derek says, watching helplessly. He can’t really fix this if he doesn’t know what the problem is, but he’s not used to Stiles looking so small. “What’s wrong?”
“I can’t keep Nettle,” Stiles says finally, voice cracking again. “It violates the bylaws and the rules of my shitty apartment, which I can barely afford anyway, but whatever. My dad can’t help me break the law, and if she’s still there in 24 hours, I’ll be evicted, and – and Nettle’s too pretty to live on the streets with me. So. You have to keep her.” He sniffles.
Derek shoots the happily munching goat a quick, panicked look, and then says, “Stiles, I can’t.”
“Why?” Stiles snaps, finally turning to face him, but he’s pale, with red splotches on his face, and his eyes are burning with tears. “Because you’re a predator? I don’t think she minds. Because you don’t do responsibility? Because I already know that. Because you don’t think you can keep her alive? Trust me, the fact that you can’t seem to keep anybody alive very long has occurred to me, but it’s not like I have any other choice! You live outside Beacon Hills township, you aren’t under the same bylaws, you’re the only one who can help me, but if you don’t want to—”
“Stiles,” Derek says, quiet. “I can’t take her because I don’t want to hurt you. She’s yours.”
Stiles stops and swallows hard, and then he ducks his head, breathing noisily. It takes a moment, and then he says, “Oh. Well. Now I look like an asshole.”
Derek isn’t good with emotions. He’s not good with melodramatic barely-adults, he’s not good with people who cry over baby goats, he’s not good with people, period.
He doesn’t know what to do here.
“I could keep her,” he offers finally, tentatively. “Temporarily.”
Stiles heaves a deep breath and then nods. “I’ll figure something out,” he says fiercely. “I’ll change the bylaw. I’ll – I’ll find her a nice f-farm or…” He trails off, swallowing hard, and Derek doesn’t tell him that goats don’t really thrive in apartments in the middle of towns.
“Okay,” he says instead. Nettle bahs.
“Fuck,” Stiles sighs, rolling his eyes. “Sorry, sorry, I’m a mess. I shouldn’t have said those things, I didn’t mean them, I know you’ll do your best, you always do your best, I’m sorry. Sorry.” He’s mumbling, and Derek stands still, a little petrified, when Stiles suddenly lurches closer, like Stiles is coming to touch him, but of course he’s not.
He presses a messy kiss to Nettle’s head and runs from the house, quick, like ripping off a bandaid.
The door slams and Derek’s alone with a fucking goat and the only thing he can think, as he sighs and sets Nettle down on the floor, is that apparently he’s going to be seeing Stiles a whole lot more in the near future.
But he doesn’t.
It’s been a week and a half and Stiles’ apartment is still stupidly empty and quiet. Nettle hadn’t lived there long, but her leash is still hanging on a hook by the door, one of her toys that he hadn’t found when he’d packed her things before heading to Derek’s is still laying half under the couch. The faint barnyard smell still lingers.
And Stiles hates it.
She’s just a goat, yeah. But he hadn’t really realized how lonely he was in this apartment by himself until the silence had been broken by playful bahs and the sound of little hooves.
And the fact that Nettle is at Derek’s and Stiles can’t just go there is driving him nuts.
But Derek didn’t sign up for this. Not for Nettle, and definitely not for Stiles. They aren’t sharing custody here. Stiles had given Derek his goat. Stiles owed it to Derek not to make this any worse by inflicting his presence on the poor guy whenever he needed a bit of attention.
So he spends his time working and sleeping and researching goat sanctuaries on the west coast, without finding any that could offer Nettle the quality of life she deserves.
He ignores his father and Scott and everyone else, and forgets to eat, and forgets to shower, so when Derek calls him 11 days later, Stiles is a mess, and he stinks.
Derek doesn’t waste his time with pleasantries. He says, “I’ll be out for four hours this afternoon. You know where the key is.” He sounds abrupt and annoyed and not very pleased.
Stiles blinks. “You’re going to leave Nettle home alone?” he says, scandalized. “She’s a baby, you can’t just leave her home alone to go gallivanting around with your girlfriend or whoever –”
“I still don’t have a girlfriend,” Derek says impatiently. “Or a boyfriend.”
Stiles blinks. He’s not thinking clearly, obviously, which is why he asks, “Would you, though? Do the boyfriend thing?”
Derek ignores him. “And she’s a goat. She’ll be fine. But if you want to come over and see her, since you haven’t, not in eleven days, I won’t be here. If that’s what’s been keeping you away.”
Stiles is so startled that apparently Derek’s been counting the days too, that for a moment, the rest of Derek’s statement doesn’t sink in. Then his eyes widen. “Whoa, hey, that’s not why,” he says. “Why would that – no, dude. I’ve been trying not to bother you. I know that it’s not like, a joint custody thing or whatever, and you don’t like having me around and –”
Derek sighs. “I don’t not like having you around,” he says. “I thought – I expected you. When you left Nettle here, I expected to see you. And so did she. She misses you.”
“Stiles. What I’m trying to say is that I was under the impression that this was a joint custody thing. She misses you. And I… don’t mind tolerating you. But if you don’t like, uh, tolerating me, then I can leave, so you can see her. If you want. Or not. Whatever.”
“Oh.” Stiles takes a deep breath. “Okay. Okay, just – I’ll be there. Don’t leave.”
He hangs up and grabs Nettle’s forgotten toy as he dashes out the door.
“You’re insane,” Stiles breathes, staring in awe. Derek rolls his eyes, but he’s blushing and looking pleased.
“She needed to be able to go outside but still be safe,” he says, shoving his hands in his jacket pockets and shrugging.
Derek has installed a goat-sized doggy door in the backdoor of his house out in the preserve, and it leads to an impressive and carefully fenced play area, outfitted with ramps and platforms, climbing rails and bridges, and old tires. There are tunnels, a muddy pond for splashing in, and stones and branches to leap over. Nettle is currently standing at the top of a tower, bahing into the wind. When she sees Stiles, she hops in excitement and starts scurrying down the ramp.
“You built all this?” Stiles asks, as Derek swings open a gate so Nettle can barrel out of the enclosure and start smashing her horns into Stiles’ shins, bahing to be scooped up. Her little tail is wagging.
Derek shrugs again. “I like when she’s happy,” he says, turning away like it’s no big deal.
It’s the biggest deal.
Stiles wants to prove it somehow, but that desire is currently competing with other desires, like the urge to knock Derek over into the hay bale he’d somehow acquired and kiss the hell out of him to prove just how much this entire thing means to Stiles.
Instead, he reigns in his stampeding hormones and confesses, “I can’t find a goat sanctuary or a farm that’ll give her the life she deserves.” He glances back at the goat playground. Yeah, there’s nothing out there as awesome or filled with love as this place.
Derek leads the way back into the house, and Stiles follows, putting Nettle down so she can gallop around the hardwood floor.
“Oh,” Derek says, all casual, as he opens the fridge. Stiles can see that Derek’s ears are turning pink. “I forgot about that. She can stay, though. I don’t mind?”
He cracks open a can of Coke and turns to look at Stiles, leaning one hip against the counter, and somehow the baby goat skipping around his ankles doesn’t do anything except make him look hotter.
Stiles looks away, fast. “For how long?” he asks.
Derek shrugs. “I like having her here.”
“And you don’t not like having me here,” Stiles says, just to check.
Derek rolls his eyes. “I like having you here too,” he grumbles. “I’ve always liked it.”
Stiles is drifting closer – he can’t help it. Nettle is happy and Derek is happy and Stiles… he thinks maybe he can be happy here too.
Except Derek definitely won’t be happy if Stiles gives in to what he really wants to give in to and kisses him. No, Stiles, no. Bad Stiles. No kissing. No hay bales. No happy families filled with baby goats and werewolves and lazy morning sex and hot nighttime sex and cuddling and hand holding and doing stupid domestic shit together like washing the dishes – Derek would look so good washing dishes--
Stiles swallows. Derek’s watching him, eyes wide and dark, like he’s not sure why Stiles is inching closer but he can guess and it’s scaring the crap out of him. But he’s not running, so. Stiles will take that as a win.
“You were going somewhere,” Stiles says, voice huskier than he means it to be. He clears his throat and tries to speak like a functioning adult who isn’t a slave to his hormones. “Right? Four hours?”
“Uh.” Derek’s staring at Stiles’ mouth. Then he looks away and swallows and says, “Yeah. There’s, uhm. That guy, the petting zoo guy? He had his animals confiscated because he’s an asshole who doesn’t feed them. They’re going to be put up for auction. I was going to go and see if I could find Nettle’s mother. There’s room in the playground and they probably miss each other and –” He hesitates and then his eyes fall back to Stiles’ mouth and darken and he says, “And no one should have to be alone.
Stiles has been alone. Stiles has been so alone. But maybe not as alone as Derek has been.
“Derek?” he asks, reaching out, because they’re so close now that he can do that, just shift his hand a few inches and touch skin – the back of Derek’s hand. “How much do you like having me here?”
He expects Derek to roll his eyes, to walk away, to say something dry and irritated. Instead, Derek breathes out, careful, and then he turns his hand in Stiles’ until their palms are pressed together, fingers tangling, and he looks up from Stiles’ mouth and shrugs, helplessly. “Too much,” he confesses.
Stiles smiles, slowly, until he’s smiling so wide that his face hurts. “I should come over more often,” he says, and they’re talking so softly, so carefully, that it’s like they’re whispering secrets.
“Okay,” Derek says.
“And maybe I can stay over sometimes. And eventually maybe I won’t go home at all. And it’ll just be me and you and Nettle and our friends and our family and we should go find Nettle’s mother, or a friend, or all the goats, and they can live here with us, because you’re practically the goat whisperer and they love you and I—”
“Yeah,” Derek says, probably just to stop Stiles’ monologue, which is for the best, but then it gets even better because Derek tugs him until Stiles stumbles against his chest, and Derek’s free hand is cradling Stiles’ cheek, and Derek is kissing him.
Stiles never knew you could kiss someone when that someone caught a particularly nasty case of the giggles, but Derek’s managing just fine, so he just holds on tight to Derek’s shoulder – he has the best shoulders, seriously – and tries to keep up and everything is spinning in the best way possible and Nettle is chewing on the cuff of his jeans and Derek is nipping at his bottom lip and, yeah. This is a good family. An unconventional one, but a good one.
And when Derek finally lets him catch his breath (by pressing his face to the side of Stiles’ neck and inhaling like he’s trying to memorize Stiles’ scent), Stiles lets his head fall back and his eyes closed and says breathlessly, “Yeah. Let’s go steal more goats.”
Derek sighs, but Stiles can hear his smile when he says, “Yeah. Okay. I can do that. Or we could legally purchase them this time at a state-sanctioned auction.”
And they do.