I have a novel and about fifteen thousand WIPs to work on, but after last night’s episode all I can focus on is how much I’ve been broken over no one (himself included) valuing Derek Hale’s life.
So here, have the beginning of a story about Derek and the Ugly Cat.
**NOTE: Mentions of animal euthanasia, tread carefully if that sort of thing upsets you.
“One drop of wine is enough to redden a whole glass of water.”
― Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame
None of it would’ve happened if Animal Control had just done their damned job.
As it was, however, Derek had been forced to take it upon himself to wrangle the dog that had spent the past week and a half climbing into his garbage cans at five in the morning every. Damned. Day. He’d also been the one to drive it to the animal shelter, to smile through the haze of sleep deprivation as he answered questions from an overly-cheerful young man in a polo shirt with a paw print logo, to keep quiet when the entire front desk staff cooed over the dog’s floppy ears like it was a newborn baby and not the beast from hell Derek knew it to be. Whatever, it isn’t his problem anymore.
It’s Polo Shirt’s story of spending his childhood longing to find a puppy under the Christmas tree, half-overheard as Derek begins to leave, that has him turning around again. He’s never wanted a dog—and now, wondering every morning if this is going to be the day he finally dies, the idea of any pet at all seems to be more pointless than ever—but suddenly he finds himself overrun with memories of his sisters, all wide eyes and pleading voices as they begged their parents for a kitten. It had been their combined dream for months, and though their parents had never caved Derek still remembers the attempts: the hand-drawn chore charts outlining litter-box maintenance and feeding schedules, spreadsheets of grooming and veterinary costs, pictures of kittens cut out of magazine advertisements and plastered over every available inch of the refrigerator.
It culminates with him finding himself standing in the middle of the cat room, fighting not to retch at the stench of the kennels he’s had to walk past to get there. The room is lined with walls of cages that don’t smell nearly as terrible as the ones outside; half of them are empty, and in the remaining ones most of the cats are curled up, sleeping. Derek cautiously pokes a finger into the nearest one, skimming over the back of a kitten that’s half-sprawled against the bars.
Please ask for employee assistance before removing cats from their cages, a laminated yellow sign plastered on the nearby wall tells him, and Derek pulls his hand away again.
There are only two cages with kittens in them, three or four tiny, fluffy bodies heaped on top of each other in both, despite a good third of one wall apparently set aside for the purpose. The rest of the cages have full-grown cats in them, either sleeping or gazing at him with the same look of feline indifference he remembers from his middle-school friend Tucker’s tabby.
The door opens, bringing the barking outside into sharp focus for a moment before it closes again, and a smiling middle-aged woman in another pawprint polo shirt deposits a bottle of cleaning solution on top of one of the cages.
“Are you looking to adopt a cat today, or are you just here for a fix?”
“Neither.” Derek tries to summon up his dealing-with-people smile, but his eyes feel gritty from lack of sleep and his face simply refuses to cooperate. “I just … my sisters always wanted a cat.”
“Well.” Her mouth twitches as if she isn’t quite sure what to do with it, and she reaches for her spray bottle again. “Let me know if you need any help.”
Derek thinks that maybe he sees the appeal of pets after all; at the very least, they must be easier to talk to than people are.
A choked, angry-sounding yowl pulls his attention to the left, and his shoulders tense. A large, dirt-grey paw has snaked through the bars three cages down, batting at the air as another murderous shriek rings out. Derek’s lips peel back in the beginnings of a snarl before he brings himself back under control; it’s a cat, not a threat, despite what his over-wrought instincts are screaming.
“Oh, that’s just Quasimodo.” He turns to see the woman smiling cautiously at him again. “He’s harmless.”
Derek lifts an eyebrow. “He doesn’t sound it.”
“His bark’s worse than his bite; or whatever the equivalent phrase is for cats. He sounds scary, but he’s sweet, really.”
Marshmallow isn’t the word that Derek would use, he decides when he moves down to take a cautious look inside the cage. The thing is huge, mottled grey and black with long, thick fur that’s patchy between the ears. Its face is squashed, like it ran face-first into a wall and got stuck that way; its eyes are a dim yellow, and the left one has a decided droop to it. It yowls again, still clawing at the air.
“Poor thing,” the woman is saying, “he’s been here a year already. He’s a special-needs case—he’s got a heart condition that needs monitoring, and regular medication—and it’s just too much for most people to voluntarily take on.”
Derek goes still and focuses his attention, sifting through the the fast, tiny heartbeats filling the room until he finds the one he’s searching for, strong but not quite as steady as the others.
“What happens if no one takes him?” he hears himself asking.
“He’ll have to be put down.” She sounds matter-of-fact, but there’s a distinct edge of regret in her voice. “We don’t have the funds to afford his medications very much longer; he’s only made it this long because we took up a collection to pay for the last six months.”
He wonders how long it’ll be, how many more people will come in looking and pass this cat by before they take him quietly into the back and slide a needle beneath its skin. Before he knows what he’s doing he finds himself reaching out, pulling his hand back from the latch at the last moment.
“Can I take him out?”
“Sure.” The woman reaches for the latch, holding it firm as the cat begins to heave itself against the door. “You ready?”
He can control his healing well enough if the thing scratches him to ribbons, and he figures with a face and a voice like that it’s probably been a while since anybody’s gotten close enough to touch it. If it’s facing death, it deserves at least the chance for a little bit of attention.
The thing lunges for him as soon as the door is open, letting out a terrifying screech, and Derek braces himself for the worst. Its paws are enormous, thumping hard against his chest as it lets out another war cry and—
Purrs. The thing is purring, as loud as a freaking motorboat, and stretching up to rub its head against his chin. Derek is frozen for a moment, disbelieving, before his hands come slowly forward. The cat’s fur is surprisingly soft, and he buries his fingers in it as he strokes down its back. He catches its hindquarters on instinct when it springs forward out of the cage and onto his chest, shoving it face cold nose-first into the crook of his neck, and beneath the rumble of its purrs Derek can still make out the careful ticking of its heart.
If he leaves it here, it’s going to die alone. It’s a fear he knows all too well.
“What sort of paperwork do you need me to fill out?”
They send him home with a complimentary bag of cat food; a small bag of litter; bag with a folder full of literature about his new pet and several bottles of medication; and a flimsy carrier that barely supports the cat’s heavy, wriggling weight. Quasimodo yowls the entire way, sounding like murder incarnate the entire time the car is in motion, and Derek finds himself torn between wanting to tear his own ears off and murmuring, “I’m sorry, okay, we’ll be home soon” under his breath every ten seconds.
He gets everything upstairs in one trip, sacrifices one of the cardboard boxes from the cheap, build-it-yourself bed frame he’d finally bought last month to use as a makeshift litter box, and opens the carrier before the cat can bust his way through it. The outraged screeching stops immediately; Quasimodo pauses halfway out of the carrier, looking around uncertainly before darting across the loft and leaping onto the couch to claw at the cushions.
“What the hell am I going to do with you?” Derek asks, reality suddenly crashing down on him.
He lowers himself into one of the chairs by the desk when his head begins to spin. He has no expectations of making it through the rest of the year alive; what the hell is he doing taking responsibility for another living thing? When he dies, this cat is going to be left all alone. Derek pulls out the folder embossed with the shelter’s logo, slides the instruction sheet for the cat’s medication out of the pocket with fingers that are beginning to go numb. He needs two different pills a day, and a third one once a week. Maybe it’s not too late to take him back, or to ask Deaton if he knows anyone who has the time and the patience and the projected lifespan to take on a responsibility like this. The money isn’t an issue; Derek has more than enough money, and he’d be willing to help out with the expenses, even set something up for after he’s gone, but he doesn’t know why he thought that he could do this himself.
There’s a heavy thump, and the desk rocks a little on unsteady legs. Derek looks up to see Quasimodo picking his way delicately across the folder, sliding the papers halfway out under the weight of his paws. He lets out his terrible, growling meow again, and lowers his head to ram it gently against Derek’s shoulder.
“You know, you sound angry all the time.” Derek reaches up, hesitant, and scratches lightly behind his ears. The purring ratchets up and Quasimodo shoves his head more firmly against Derek’s hand. “I get that.”
He’s going to have to talk to Deaton about ordering the pills he’ll need, making sure he has the new bottles before the ones the shelter gave him run out. If Deaton knows he has a cat, then Scott will know. If Scott knows, he’ll make sure things are taken care of after Derek’s gone.
“You’re probably hungry, right? C’mon.”
He tapes the medication instructions to the cabinet next to the fridge before he opens it and surveys his dishes. There are two chipped bowls that he’d picked up at Goodwill for a quarter apiece; he fills one with water, and Quasimodo winds around his ankles with soft croaking sounds as Derek carefully reads the feeding instructions on the cat food. The croaks turn to growling meows when he opens the bag, and Derek dumps a careful handful of food into the bowl.
“These are a little sad,” he mutters, running his thumb over one of the chipped edges. He sets the bowls on the floor and runs a hand over the cat’s back, feeling him arch into the touch even as he dives face-first into the bowl of food. “I’ll get you some better one. You gonna be okay here on your own for a couple of—” Derek straightens with a heavy sigh and scrubs a hand over his face. “I’m talking to a cat.”
He makes a mental list as he grabs his keys from the desk. New dishes, litter box, maybe a brush.
Derek glances at the couch on his way out.
Scratching post. Definitely.
OH MY GOD YES YOU WROTE IT