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Starting Now I’m Starting Over

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The first time Stiles manages the change he’s so excited he barely holds his Animagus form over a minute. He staggers with the swiftness of stretching back into his limbs, braces his hands on the back of his couch—and then whoops with glee and maybe dances around a little, but no one’s there to see it.

The second time he holds it for all of five minutes, sniffs the air—mice, must, ash—grimaces at an involuntary lick over his paw, before stumbling into human form again, breathless with exhilaration.

He can’t wait to tell McGonagall.

*

Stiles is registered, of course. He managed to do that well before he actually mastered the art of meditation, which took an unsurprisingly long and arduous time.

He likes to think his Animagus form was a point in his favor when applying for the Transfigurations professor position at Hogwarts, but he doesn’t actually know for sure. He does know that he used to bug the crap out of McGonagall when he was a student there five years previous, so odds are it certainly didn’t hurt that he can turn into a fluffy gray tomcat now at will.

It’s still possibly the coolest thing that’s ever happened to him, barring the fact that he’s, you know, a Wizard. Arguably, cool things happen to him every day.

The least cool thing currently, though, is that Derek Hale has managed to hold onto the cursed DADA position at Hogwarts for the better part of six years, and Stiles still has nightmares of nearly getting eaten by the dude in seventh year—Stiles can be annoying, and Hale has a werewolf-sized temper that Stiles seemed to test daily.

If the less than enthusiastic reaction he got at the beginning of the year is any indication, he’s pretty sure Professor Hale still hates him.

But now the holidays are upon them; most, if not all, of his students are off at home for the break, and Stiles is enjoying some downtime before the circus that is the Stilinski-McCall-Argent Christmas celebration by being a cat.

*

It took the entire summer before starting his professorship at Hogwarts to figure out how to stay a cat when he was startled. Or when he sneezed. Or when he felt hungry, or happy, or basically anything that he identified with as a human. Now when he’s hungry, he catches a mouse. Or when he’s happy, he purrs. Or when he wants a nap, he curls up in front of his fire and tucks his nose underneath his tail.

It’s satisfying in a way he never really thought it would be, given that he can’t actually talk.

He can kind of talk. McGonagall says he’s supremely, annoyingly loud, and she’s batted at him with a broom more than once to get him to go away.

Which is why he’s so surprised, when he accidentally tumbles into Professor Hale’s legs on a mad dash down the halls, that Derek leans down and scoops him up and…cuddles him into his arms.

Stiles doesn’t know what to do with himself, at first. And then he yowls, because if Derek is going to eat him, he wants everyone to know.

Derek grimaces, but puts him gently back onto his feet, smoothing a wide palm down his back that Stiles automatically arches into, he can’t help himself.

And then Derek says, “Be more careful, now,” in a low, soft voice and Stiles blinks up at him, completely fucking bewildered.

*

Stiles grins at Derek over breakfast. He makes a little wave with his fork, but Derek just stares at him with a small crease between his eyes, mouth set to extreme frown levels, and Stiles feels his smile slip off his face.

Weird.

*

The weirdest part, though, is that it keeps happening.

Derek keeps petting him in the halls—Stiles rolls over onto his belly, he gets belly rubs now, and Stiles is so shameless that he lets it happen over and over again.

It keeps happening to the point that Derek takes him home, and Stiles spends more than one wonderful evening curled up in Derek’s lap, bumping him under his chin for more ear scritches, and Stiles knows—he knows that he’s being purposely oblivious to the glaringly obvious fact that Derek has absolutely no idea who he is.

That somehow Derek’s werewolf nose has failed him—spectacularly—and that Stiles is taking gross advantage of this fact.

And he doesn’t even feel the least bit bad about it.

*

In the start of Stiles’s seventh year, Professor Hale had been an extremely handsome pipedream. He’d been introduced at the first feast and Stiles could hardly stop the dreamy sigh. Derek Hale had been a seventh year when Stiles was a firstie, and Stiles’s eleven year old brain had a passing crush on him—akin to the crushes Stiles had on Chris Pine, chocolate frogs, and horses.

Stiles at seventeen was looking on a god. A glorious specimen of hotness and eyebrows. The obvious brooding disposition just made him more swoon-worthy. That is, until Stiles got in the classroom with him and Professor Hale decided Slytherins in general were useless, and that Stiles in particular probably needed his throat ripped out to be kept in line. An empty threat, maybe, but all the Slytherins managed to hold an unhealthy amount of fear for him anyway. It’s not like Hogwarts ever had any luck with DADA professors to begin with.

The years since seemed to have mellowed him. At least, Stiles hasn’t heard any complaints about favoritism or not, and he’s seen him talk more than civilly to any number of Slytherin students over the past couple months.

Not Stiles, though. Stiles is still a pariah.

It could have something to do with the Bogart that managed to conjure itself in the form of Derek during his NEWTS, with terrifying teeth and glowing eyes.

It’s hard to think that way about him now, though, considering the fact that Derek’s had his hands all over him in super pleasant ways. He knows all of Stiles’s good spots—the base of his tail, up under his throat, all the itchy places around his ears. Stiles melts bonelessly across his lap and Derek just goes to town, sweeping his hand all down the length of him. It’s amazing.

It’s becoming a habit, slipping into his cat-skin every evening, scratching at Derek’s doors, meowing loud and long to be let in. He eats tuna and milk and chases the tassels on Derek’s slippers. He rubs his face all over Derek’s pants and gnaws at the corner of whatever book Derek’s reading. He demands pets as loudly as he can, just to see if he’ll get annoying enough to get kicked out of the room, but all Derek does is snuggle him closer and rub his cheek all over the top of Stiles head.

Ownership. They smell like each other, so much so that sometimes Derek wrinkles his nose at breakfast or lunch, before stiffly nodding at him and saying, “Stilinski,” like he’s something Derek’s scraped off the bottom of his shoe.

Stiles wants to kick him in the shin and also head-butt him in the throat and crawl into his lap and give him a hug.

Seriously. What the fuck does this guy think he’s doing?

*

A week before Christmas, McGonagall calls him up to her office and peers at him from over her spectacles, mouth pinched and expression judging.

She says, “It appears you’ve been spending quite a lot of time with Professor Hale.”

Stiles is nodding before she’s even finished. He says, “I know what you’re going to say.”

One eyebrow goes up. “Do tell me, Professor,” she says, and Stiles grimaces.

He lasts a bare minute of silence before throwing his hands up and saying, “How can he not know?”

She says, “I believe what’s more important now is that you tell him.”

Stiles is going to regret this so much. It’s going to be the worst. It’s going to suck so much balls. He nods, though, and says, “Yeah, I know.”

*

Stiles shows up at the door of Derek’s room with a bottle of firewhiskey. He asks the portrait to the left, a tall man in a tall hat feeding a giraffe, if Derek’s inside, instead of knocking right away.

The man has a mustache attached to his sideburns and he snaps his suspenders and says, “Never know unless you try,” grinning at him.

Stiles wants to flick him with his finger. He takes a deep breath and raps twice with his knuckles.

“Harder, my boy, put some muscle into it,” the painting says, and Stiles’s cheeks pink.

He knocks louder, though, and then barely has to wait a minute before the door jerks inward, revealing—Derek in sleep pants and a t-shirt, hair mussed. It’s not a revelation. Stiles has been curled up on those very same pants before. But it’s different, seeing all that through human eyes.

Derek crosses his arms over his chest and says, “Stilinksi.” He drops his eyes to Stiles’s feet, like he’s expecting Stiles-the-cat as well.

Which is—of course. Of course Derek thinks the cat belongs to Stiles, instead of actually being Stiles. That makes a lot more sense.

Stiles shoves the firewhiskey at Derek and says, “Funny story…” and then figures—why not? He takes a deep breath and spins himself into the cat. Direct, and to the point.

He probably should have seen the door slamming in his face coming, but he did not.

He almost manages to get his tail out of the way in time, but he’s pretty sure his pained wail echoes throughout the entire castle.

*

The rumor, at least back when Stiles was in school, was that once upon a time Derek’s heart got broken and then stomped on and then shredded by a Slytherin asshat, and that ruined everything for everyone.

Stiles being kind of creeper probably hasn’t helped much either, now that he thinks about it.

He fire-calls Scott and says, “I’m a dick.”

“Well, duh,” Scott says, crouched down in front of the hearth. “What did you do?”

“I, uh.” Stiles scratches the back of his neck. “I sort of tricked Derek Hale into cuddling me.”

Scott gets that adorable befuddled look on his face. “Huh?”

“As a cat. He gave me belly rubs,” Stiles clarifies. Man, it sounds so much worse out loud.

“Wow. You’re definitely a dick,” Scott says, a little like he’s impressed with how far Stiles has gone to prove it. “Did you apologize?”

Stiles shrugs. He’d said sorry over breakfast that morning, but they’d both reached for the rolls at the same time—does that count?

Derek had gone pink around the ears and refused to look at him and then left the table without finishing his eggs.

Stiles feels terrible. And also lonely. And also his ears itch, and when he scratches them himself it just isn’t the same.

*

Three days before Christmas, a single day before he’s due to leave for home, four days since Derek started ignoring him—Stiles wanders the halls yowling.

At near-screeching levels. A sixth year staying in Gryffindor chucks a boot at him and Stiles isn’t even mad; he understands perfectly well how annoying he’s being. He’s high on catnip and despair, and ends up at the tall man portrait outside of Derek’s rooms, sounding nearly like a Siamese wailing-baby kitten.

Stiles has no idea how long he’s there, crying forlornly at the stone walls, before the door yanks inward.

Derek has his wand out and his foot back, like he’s gearing up to kick him.

Stiles flinches and slinks back but doesn’t run away. It pays off when Derek tips his head to stare at the ceiling, curses his bloody existence, then leaves the door wide open when he turns around to head back inside.

It only takes a moment of hesitation before Stiles is scrambling in after him.

*

Stiles is unabashedly shameless with stuff he really wants, really enjoys, so he risks getting shoved around by Derek’s slippers and twines himself through his legs over and over again.

He’s loud until Derek says, wearily, “Shut up, Stiles,” and then he’s a silent, insistent presence butting at his ankles until Derek sighs and reaches down and lifts him up onto his lap.

It’s glorious; Stiles immediately buries his head in Derek’s armpit and his motor revs up as Derek uses two hands to ruffle all the fur down his sides.

God, he’s missed this.

“You’re an asshole,” Derek says, but he doesn’t stop petting him, so Stiles takes it as a win.

*

Christmas at home basically revolves around the newest family addition, little Adelaide Argent-McCall, all of ten months old. Then there’s the new puppy, Allison’s far-too-dignified for play kneazle that secretly tortures the puppy, and the annual Chris Argent-John Stilinski pissing contest that involves too many shots of gin and karaoke of a thirty-year-old Weird Sisters album.

It’s arguably worse than last year, when they were less two young bodies but far further along in alcohol.

Stiles usually hides in the kitchen with Scott, but Scott’s too busy doting on Addy to commiserate with how embarrassing their dads are.

This year, Melissa sets him up with hot cocoa, cups her chin in her hands and stares at him across the too-small table. “Spill,” she says.

Stiles tries to look innocent. “Spill what?”

Melissa narrows her eyes. “You’ve been even more antsy than usual.”

Stiles shrugs and forces a bright smile. “Just looking forward to the new semester!” he says.

In the other room, Addy squeals and laughs and Melissa slowly gets to her feet. She presses a hand to Stiles’s shoulder as she walks by, and says, “Well. I’m here if you need to talk.”

“Thanks,” Stiles says, and he means it. He doesn’t need to talk, though. Or, well, he should probably talk to Derek, but everything is so much easier as a cat, right?

*

Stiles as a cat is fluffy and gray striped and much larger than Allison’s kneazle, and someone has to stand up for the poor puppy, okay?

Kneazles are smart, though, and this is entirely the only reason Stiles gets trapped in a cupboard too small to switch human in, and Stiles ends up three days late getting back to school. He travels by Floo into Hogsmeade, and then stalks his way up and over the hill, only to nearly trip over his feet—Derek has a mixed batch of students swarming around him and a teeny tiny orange kitten in his arms.

Crap.

*

Stiles can hold out. Stiles is a bastion of self-control.

Derek very studiously doesn’t look at him throughout the welcome back feast, and Stiles tries very hard not to notice the pink of his cheeks above his scruff, or the small grin at the corner of his mouth, or the way he talks to Professor Longbottom about proper kitten nutrition like a normal human being, when previously he was hard-pressed to talk to anyone about anything at all.

Derek always frowns like he’s getting paid for it, but now he keeps flashing Stiles little looks that are either smug or bashful—Stiles has no actual idea.

He has no clue what’s happening. He just doesn’t think it could be good.

And then, wonder of wonders, it all slowly settles back into normalcy. The strange looks peter off. Derek gets closed-mouthed again when prodded by the other professors. He answers questions about the kitten perfunctorily and usually with a bite at the end of his words.

Everyone seems to pin it down to the impending full moon, and Stiles doesn’t think enough about it all to think anything.

Honestly.

If he wallows all by his lonesome as a cat in his rooms, curled up listlessly in front of the fire, well, that’s nobody’s business but his own.

*

As the weeks wear on, Stiles definitely doesn’t notice the increasingly pinched looks Derek gives him. Or the curt nods of acknowledgement in the hallways.

Stiles holds out nearly a month. And then he tells himself it’s ridiculous, because where was this restraint over their holiday break? And what did not having this restraint get him? Pets. Lots and lots of pets and warm snuggles. And while snuggling in a human body may’ve been preferable, he’s not stupid enough to think that’s even an option here.

So he scratches at Derek’s door as a tabby cat and darts inside as soon as it opens, not giving Derek a chance to keep him out.

The orange kitten is tucked into the corner of an armchair, sleeping in a tiny ball. Stiles creeps up and sniffs at him curiously. The kitten’s head pops up, fur every which way, and sneezes. He’s freaking adorable, Stiles is no match for him.

Derek steps up behind him, though, and then hefts him up into his arms and, without a word, sits down on the opposite chair with Stiles in his lap. Stiles stretches up to bump the top of his head under Derek’s chin, topples backward into the crook of his elbow, and gets belly scratches to show for it.

*

“You’re an idiot,” Lydia says, her face green tinged in the fire.

Stiles flails a little and says, “He got a kitten! How am I supposed to compete with that?”

“You’re not,” Lydia says, slow like he’s a child. “Because you’re a human.”

Stiles presses his mouth together and stares at her. She kind of has a point.

*

Stiles shows up at Derek’s rooms in full human regalia—black robes, green and silver tie, for extra armor. And then he fidgets there long enough for the tall man to take off his hat and say, “Are you quite all right, young man?” Even the giraffe looks concerned, so Stiles takes a deep breath and knocks on the door.

Derek says, “Stiles,” like he’s surprised to see him. He covers it up quickly with a scowl, but the split-second slight widening wonder in his eye is enough to make Stiles push past him into the room.

Derek closes the door, but crosses his arms over his chest and bares his teeth in a parody of a grin.

Stiles jabs a finger toward him. “I’m not afraid of you.”

Derek arches an eyebrow.

“I mean it,” Stiles insists. Derek as a professor was terrifying, but Stiles has now seen Derek make kissy noises into his fur-face, there’s no going back from that.

Derek huffs. “Fine.” And then he adds, more magnanimously, “That’s…good.”

“Damn right it’s good,” Stiles says, dropping down into an overstuffed armchair. He peers around for the little munchkin, but doesn’t see him.

Derek sits more delicately on the edge of the seat across from him. He spreads his legs and rests his elbows on his thighs and stares at his clasped hands.

There’s a long awkward silence and then Stiles breaks and says, “I should apologize.”

“Stiles,” Derek says, slow. “You don’t—”

“I’m sorry,” Stiles says over him. And then, at Derek’s less than encouraging expression, “At least you got a fuzzy pet out of it, right? I mean, who’da thunk you’d want to cuddle up with a kitten if you hadn’t pet…um…” Wow, that’s kind of a terrible line of conversation right now, Stiles is so bad at this. He trails off helplessly and gives Derek a pained smile.

“Stiles,” Derek says. “I didn’t get Skittles—”

Skittles?”

“—because I suddenly realized I liked cats.”

“Skittles?” Stiles says again.

The kitten in question pops up from behind Derek’s chair, having scaled the back of it with his pinprick claws. He gnaws a little on Derek’s hair before dropping down onto his shoulder, losing balance and tumbling headlong into his lap. Derek just curls his hands around him, nearly engulfing the tiny thing within the cup of his palms.

Stiles sighs and drags his gaze away from that ridiculous sight. “I figured you were—” he says with a shrug, “letting me down easy. Replacing me.”

“I wasn’t—Jesus, Stiles, I wasn’t replacing you,” Derek says, running a hand through his hair.

He seems super frustrated, and Stiles’s mouth quirks up. “What, just getting me a playmate, then?” He’s half bitter, half resigned. It doesn’t actually matter how exactly Derek meant it—the end result is the same, right? “I get it,” Stiles says, getting to his feet. “I’ll leave you alone.”

“You don’t get anything,” Derek says, reaching out to grab Stiles’s arm as he tries to slip past him. “I was trying… am trying, I mean.” His eyes are surprisingly soft on, “Stay?”

Stiles has no idea what Derek really means, honestly, but he’s certainly not going to say no.

*

“So you’re dating Derek Hale now?” Scott says.

“Yes. No. Maybe?” These are the only things Stiles knows for sure: Derek thought he was a fuck-up in school, and borderline hated his guts; Derek likes cats, but doesn’t seem to know how to deal with people; Derek has a soft mouth and he’d cradled Stiles face in those big capable hands of his and kissed the dickens out of him before Stiles left his rooms last night.

So. Stiles, understandably, has no fucking clue what’s happening.

“I feel,” Stiles says, “like we missed a step somewhere. He used to threaten me and Ally with his teeth at least once a week.”

Allison’s head squishes in next to Scott’s in the fire. She says, “You should probably give him a pass on that. Apparently my Aunt Kate tried to kill him once.”

Stiles blinks. Famed Slytherin heartthrob-turned Unspeakable-turned Azkaban resident Kate Argent, no wonder. Which doesn’t forgive the blatant Slytherin prejudice he’d started his Hogwarts career off with, but makes it a little understandable, anyway.

Huh.

*

Stiles takes a step back and tries to view the entire year so far from a different perspective. He takes out a parchment and quill and writes:

Professor Derek Hale. Grumpy, standoffish…shy? Socially awkward? Secretly marshmallow fluff? He underlines marshmallow fluff and draws a little kitty face next to it.

The exercise gets him completely nowhere and he gladly drops his quill in favor of answering the knock on his door.

He doesn’t expect Derek, simply for the fact that Derek has never come anywhere near him outside of his own rooms—outside of Stiles going to his rooms.

Derek stares at Stiles’s mouth, and then clenches his jaw and looks blankly over Stiles’s shoulder as he says, “My sister thinks—“ He heaves a deep breath, chest expanding, “—I think I should tell you. That I got the cat to encourage you to not be a cat.”

It’s the most Derek’s said to him all at once, unprompted, and the sheer weirdness of that slows down all the processes of Stiles’s brain.

And then the words finally catch up to the weirdness and Stiles cocks his head and says, “You got a cat so I wouldn’t think you just wanted me as a cat?” That is supremely convoluted, even for someone as socially backward as Derek Hale.

“I don’t need you to be a cat,” Derek shrugs, eyes still focused across the room, “to be around you.”

A slow smile creeps over Stiles’s mouth. “But you want to be around me,” he says.

“I.” Derek stutters and stops. He flicks his gaze back to Stiles, takes in his growing grin, and the set of his shoulders slowly unwinds. “I want to be around you,” he says, soft.

“You’ll have me however,” Stiles says, more confident, bouncing a little on the balls of his feet.

“However and whenever,” Derek says, voice slightly hoarse, like the words got a little stuck in his throat on the way out. It’s the most romantic thing anyone has ever said to him, even if it’s referencing the fact that sometimes Stiles likes to burrow under the covers in his fur-skin and nap away his afternoon break.

“Okay,” Stiles says. “Okay, I can deal with that.”

*

It’s a lovely afternoon for a nap, but instead Stiles is on his way to Hogsmeade, traipsing after a passel of first years.

Not that the walk isn’t doing Stiles some good. They’re coming up on the end of the school year, summer is nearly stretched out in front of them, and Derek is very carefully not holding his hand, knuckles brushing over the back of it every few steps.

“You’re taking me to Greece,” Stiles is saying. “I want to ride on Muggle mopeds and swim the Mediterranean and bask in the sun—”

“You’re allergic to sun,” Derek says absently. “You’ll burn up and complain the whole time.”

“We’ll see the water dragons and eat fresh fish and every kind of cheese and—”

“Stiles,” Derek says, slipping their hands together and tugging Stiles to a stop. “Stiles, I’m taking you home.”

“Oh.” Stiles is going to meet Derek’s pack, that’s big and important and scary as fuck—mainly because Cora was almost as frightening as Derek was, back in school. Stiles tightens his hand around Derek’s though and says, “Oh,” again and, “Me too.”

Derek’s grin is blinding and totally worth the unending teasing Stiles is going to get. And the fact that Melissa and his dad are definitely not going to let them share a room. He deeply regrets doing the same to them for funsies before they were properly married, but fair’s fair.

Either that or he’s just going to have to propose.

Derek’s grin takes on the slightest worried edge, probably at Stiles’s manic expression—his cheeks are starting to hurt, and he can guess how crazed his eyes look.

Stiles says, “How do you feel about rings?” and doesn’t give Derek time to answer before pulling him in for a kiss.