Since getting Betty - his beloved jeep - the weekly grocery run had become Stiles' responsibility, in that he volunteered. It wasn't like Dad didn't have enough to worry about already, what with working all hours at increasingly bizarre and gross murder scenes that Stiles had to lie about, like, every day.
Okay, so the motivating factor since Scott's wolf-out may have been guilt - but hey, at least Dad didn't have to worry about the groceries.
Of course, his life being what it was now, his usual timetable was running a little differently. This evening, for example, had involved visiting Lydia in the hospital and watching Scott and Allison sucking face at what was supposed to be a homework session at his place (and hands teasing towards inappropriate directions that Stiles did not need to see. Seriously, worst friends ever). Anyway, Stiles had hightailed it out of there with a warning not to get his bed...dirty...and as a result, he was now doing the grocery shopping on a different day and a lot later than usual. Dusk had long since fallen, but the shop was well-lit with plenty of witnesses, so he figured the chances of a rogue werewolf attack were low (he figured it paid to be paranoid even though Peter Hale was deader than dead, and this kind of thought process was his life now, what the hell?).
Life wasn't all bad. Sure, he'd freak out the entire time he was putting the bags in his jeep, convinced something was about to leap out and rip out his spleen, but right now he was listening to his iPod, bopping along the aisle as he pondered breakfast cereals. He was contemplating trying something new - he'd been feeling that way a lot, lately - when his cart stopped abruptly with a clang, making him jerk back and instinctively yank his earbuds out.
He opened his mouth, already intent on apologising - this crap was always his fault; he was never paying attention to anything he was supposed to - and his mouth froze there when he recognised exactly who he'd barged into.
Derek. Was. Grocery shopping.
It was the first time he'd seen Derek since the guy had literally shredded Peter Hale's neck, subsequently becoming the new Alpha in the process. There was probably some kind of protocol for this situation in Werewolf Land.
"Oh my God, you eat Pop Tarts!" was probably not the most appropriate reaction, but the idea of an Alpha werewolf chowing down on the same sugary goodness Stiles enjoyed was too bizarre to pass up mentioning. "And drink root beer," he continued, spying the cans. "Got a sweet little werewolf tooth on ya, huh?"
Derek didn't say anything at all. He just stood there looking broody and rugged and handsome and like he thought Stiles was a waste of space.
It was a look Stiles was unfortunately familiar with.
Not that silence stopped him from talking. At first. "I would've thought your food would be more...uh...au naturel," he hinted. It was weird to think of Derek doing normal, mundane things like toasting pop tarts or enjoying a can of root beer on a sweaty day.
Derek still didn't say anything, just kept staring at him and being generally creepy.
Right. Stiles was starting to get the hint. "Well, uh, I need to check out urinal cakes, so-"
"Stiles Stilinski! Is that you?" a high-pitched and unwelcome voice interrupted and Stiles spun, wild-eyed, to see his nemesis.
Crap. "Hi, Mrs Wilkinson." He managed to fake enthusiasm - just barely - and shuffled closer to Derek, which said a lot about who he currently feared more. Mrs Wilkinson had, for some truly unfathomable reason, developed a soft spot for Stiles over the past few years, and every time she happened to see him she tried to set him up with her niece - a perfectly lovely and very attractive girl, who wouldn't be interested in Stiles if he was literally the last person on Earth. She knew it. Stiles knew it.
Despite all evidence to the contrary, Mrs Wilkinson didn't know it.
"Did you hear? Katie's in town!"
"Really?" He faked a smile. "I didn't know. That's great! I know how much you love seeing her." Even as he was replying, Stiles' mind was working on overdrive, trying to think up a viable exit strategy.
"I know how much you love it, too," she teased, practically glowing, before launching into the inevitable. "I know! Why don't you come and join us for some pie when you're finished here? I know it's last minute, but-"
There was no other choice. Stiles just had to take the plunge and hope that Derek didn't kill, eviscerate, or rip out his spine in some spectacularly violent way. "Oh, I'm sorry, Mrs Wilkinson," Stiles faked sincerity the best he could, "I really can't make it. Plans." He nodded incrementally towards Derek, hoping that maybe Derek wouldn't see. It didn't work, of course. The moment Stiles moved his head even slightly in Derek's direction, Derek turned his head and glared at him.
Oh, well. Mrs Wilkinson was still scarier.
Pausing, looking confused and clearly not familiar with Derek at all, Mrs Wilkinson frowned between them, before an expression of understanding flittered across her face. She began to smile, looking embarrassed. "Oh, well goodness. I just feel so silly. That explains so much." What the heck did that mean? Derek looked as confused as Stiles felt.
"Why's that?" Stiles asked curiously.
"Well, Katie tried to tell me, but I didn't believe her. I just thought she didn't want me interfering. I should've known she wouldn't lie to me - I must apologise to her," she explained, which was no explanation at all because Stiles still didn't know what the hell was going on. Or, more honestly, was trying not to understand what the hell was going on.
On the plus side, it sounded like she was going to leave him alone from now on, which could only be a good thing. "That's...good?"
"You could've just told me," she urged, leaning closer as if to speak in confidence, "I wouldn't have cared. It would've saved us both a lot of embarrassment. But I understand that, even these days, you still have to be careful. Sad world," she muttered, shaking her head grimly. "Well," she continued brightly, and holy crap, she was so not suggesting what he thought she was suggesting! "I'll go off and decide on a pie. Have a good evening," she said genuinely, pausing to wink at Derek. Wink at him. "You've got a good one there," she said slyly - oh my God, Derek could rip out Stiles' spine any time now - before sashaying off with a extra swing in her step.
Retreat was absolutely the best option. He fumbled for his shopping cart and ending up tripping over his own feet, but at least he didn't face-plant on the floor. He maneuvered his shopping cart until it was between them, as if that would protect him in any way, shape or form, and started backing away, pulling the cart with him. "That was totally not what I was trying to do!" he exclaimed, building up speed. "I just meant we'd be hanging out, you know, like bro's. Like me and Scott. Not like...not that there's anything wrong with that!" he added, because hey, these things were important even if Derek wanted to kill him.
A startled squawk finally made him stop and he turned to see that he'd barely missed barrelling into someone. "Sorry!" he yelled, because it was a yelling kind of event and when he turned back Derek was turning away himself, pushing his cart in the opposite direction. Apparently, Stiles wasn't going to be killed tonight. This kind of news was always appreciated.
The relief he felt...seeing Derek of all people walking away without threatening death on pain of death...a guy could only deal with so much. He couldn't help himself.
"Not big on communicating, are you?" he called out. "How are we ever going to make this relationship work?"
Derek didn't seem to react in any way and Stiles grinned gleefully, turning away as he pumped his right fist in triumph. 1-0 to Stiles.
Two seconds later, he got clobbered on the back of the head with a box of Sugar Puffs.
It was only later, after he'd paid, realised he'd lost his headphones - again, Dad was going to kill him - and was shoving bags into the jeep, that he thought over exactly what Mrs Wilkinson had said.
What did she mean, that explained so much?
"You are kind of...odd," Scott offered the next morning, because that was the kind of crappy friend he was. "But not in a bad way," he rushed to add, like that made it sound any better. "And you never go on dates with anyone - girls or boys."
Stiles refused to believe that, even if he happened to be gay, he would be a stereotype. He slammed his locker shut. "Dude, you run around ripping your shirt off all the time with other guys. If anyone's gay around here, it's you."
"Hey, you asked what she meant," Scott pointed out. "I'm not saying I think that way, but she is kind of old-fashioned..."
Hmm. Maybe. "Well, on the upside, at least she won't be bugging me anymore." And it wasn't like being thought of as gay would have any kind of negative effect on him personally. His popularity with the female population of the school was already at zero; it couldn't get any lower. And actually, it said something good about him.
"What are you smiling at?" Scott asked, frowning at him in confusion, which was pretty much Scott's default expression.
"Think about it," Stiles began, clutching a book to his chest, "she thought I could bag a guy like Derek. Me! It seemed within the realm of possibility," he concluded happily. When Scott just kept frowning, Stiles explained. "Have you seen Derek? With the face and the chest? The muscles? The wardrobe all in varying Shades of Night? The cool leather jacket he wears no matter what time of year it is?" Maybe that was because of a werewolf thing? Extra body heat or something? Probably didn't need to worry about wrapping up. Stiles, meanwhile, needed six layers just to avoid a slight chill.
"Yeah," Scott scoffed, "because that's not gay at all."
"You're just jealous," Stiles sniffed. "My fake boyfriend is way hotter than yours."
"I don't even have..." Scott stopped, throwing up a hand. "Do you even listen to yourself sometimes?"
"No, but you shoul-"
"Allison!" Scott darted off towards a figure in the distance.
Ah, well. There went that conversation.
Life continued. Lydia was eventually released from the hospital, shaken but seemingly unaffected. She definitely hadn't turned, to the secret relief of Stiles, Scott and the Argents in general, who'd been twitching just at the idea of another werewolf in town. Since killing Peter, they'd left Derek alone, but it was evident they were keeping a close eye on the situation. That included Scott who, so far, hadn't been barred from seeing Allison entirely, but pretty much only saw her at school after her parents suddenly needed her to 'help out' at home most nights.
Jackson, on the other hand, was even more of a dick. His temper was shorter, his reactions more aggressive and his attitude even crappier.
"I'm telling you, man," Stiles gasped, collapsing onto the bench and sporting a fresh bruise, "definitely a werewolf." Jackson's skill at lacrosse had always been good - okay, really good, he was forced to grudgingly admit - but this was on a whole other level, like the step up Scott took post-werewolf. As the two of them watched, he annihilated Wentworth. Stiles made a face in sympathy. "Oww."
Scott stared at Jackson intently, watching his every move. "If he is, his control's a lot better than mine was after I turned."
Yelling in rage, Jackson launched his stick forward, scoring another point. "Right. Perfectly in control."
"He's not shifting at all," Scott argued. "Sure, he's...angry, but there are never any claws. No change in eye colour. Nothing. And he doesn't smell like a werewolf."
Now that was interesting. "There's a werewolf smell?"
"Sure," Scott said casually, like this was every day information. "Everyone has a smell."
"You never told me that!" Stiles complained. "What do I smell like? Awesomeness and curly fries, am I right?"
Scott chuckled. "It's not like that. You smell like...Stiles. Not bad or good, just...Stiles. I know that sounds lame, but it's the only way to describe it."
Okay, then. That was kind of a letdown. "And there's a different smell between humans and wolves."
"Oh, yeah, definitely. And whatever's going on with with Jackson," Scott nodded towards him, "he doesn't smell like a werewolf."
Stiles sensed a hesitation coming. "But?"
Scott slowly turned his head to face him. "He doesn't smell human anymore, either."
Steroids were definitely out, then.
"Stilinski!" Finstock yelled, jolting Stiles to his feet. "If we can tear you away from your BFF, there's this little thing called lacrosse to get on with. Let's move!"
Betty gave up the ghost one night after Stiles had just picked up a DVD at the rental place. He usually preferred streaming something to watch, but that level of computer technology just confused the hell out of his dad and for once they were actually going to watch something together. He'd been paranoid about going in but thankfully no huge, terrifying wolves had smashed through the window and killed anyone. The only terrifying thing was the price of the snacks he was always stupid enough to buy.
Betty was now punishing him for his weakness.
She groaned again as he turned the ignition. "Aww, come on, Betty! Don't do this to me!" She may have been old, but she'd been pretty reliable ever since he'd gotten her. And the way things were at the moment, he wasn't about to ask his dad for another car.
"Come on, baby," he pleaded, "just get me home tonight, and I promise I'll get you to a mechanic first thing tomorrow. I'll hold your hand and everything."
She still didn't start. Banging his head against the top of the steering wheel, Stiles resigned himself to the inevitable and opened the door. Pointing at the bag of cotton candy resting on the passenger seat, he huffed as he got out of the car. "This is your fault!"
Popping the hood, he moved to the front of the car, lifting the hood up before propping it open. Surveying the contents beneath, he sighed and nodded slowly. "Well, Betty, we totally need to call a mechanic, because I...know absolutely nothing about cars."
The quiet voice came seemingly out of nowhere and Stiles gasped really quite manfully as he stumbled around to see Derek standing behind him. "You totally did that on purpose," he accused. Derek didn't even deny it. But then he didn't actually say anything at all, so a denial would be kind of tough. "And yes," he gestured towards the jeep when his heart rate had finally lowered, "this is Betty. She's been good to you," he reminded, "so be nice."
"I'd never be rude. To your car," he added and yes, Stiles could see what he'd done there. He frowned at him, even as Derek shoved him out of the way to get a look under the hood.
This was another surprise. "You know about cars?"
"No," he replied dryly, "I just like staring at them."
"Well, you stare at everything - this is not exactly unusual behaviour. How am I supposed to know the difference?" He shivered. It'd been hot during the day, but a cool breeze was picking up in the darkness and Stiles was only in a short-sleeved t-shirt. He hadn't counted on Betty betraying him when he'd left the house.
Instead of responding verbally - or looking at him at all - Derek stripped off his leather jacket and thrust it towards Stiles. "Don't get this dirty."
Surprised, Stiles took it dumbly. He told himself Derek absolutely wasn't intending for him to wear it - and would likely go at him with his claws if he did - so instead he folded the jacket over his arms and held it tightly. "Thanks for the help. I guess." Derek grunted, leaning in further and just as Stiles was pondering the fact that werewolf vision must be coming in really handy in the low light, he realised this was the perfect opportunity.
"Oh, hey," he began not-at-all casually, "so is Jackson a werewolf now, or what?"
Sadly, Derek didn't hit his head on the hood. Stiles imagined it happened anyway, just for laughs.
Derek did go very, very still before responding. "I gave him the bite," he said eventually and well, that answered that question.
"Oh." But Scott had said...
"It didn't take," Derek continued, still working. "I don't know why. But...something happened. He's different."
"His smell," Stiles agreed, and at that Derek nearly did hit his head on the hood, body shooting up. "Scott," Stiles explained, and his body relaxed.
Slowly nodding, Derek wiped his hands off against each other. "She should start now," he nodded towards the jeep, "but you need to get her looked at."
Surprised, Stiles' eyes widened. "Dude, seriously? Thanks!" He held the jacket back out towards him. "I gotta say, it's really weird you knowing anything about cars."
Derek eyed him. "As opposed to a guy who drives a car but has no idea how it works?" Well, when he put it like that...
"My expertise lies in other areas," Stiles argued.
"Sure it does," Derek drawled, reaching for the jacket. When he touched it, he paused, randomly changing the subject and holding Stiles' gaze. "Until I know exactly what's going on with Jackson, you need to stay away from him."
"Great plan," Stiles agreed, staring back awkwardly and not sure why, "already on the Avoiding Jackson Train. Next stop: As Far Away From Him As Humanly Possible. The others, too. Well, As Far As Wolf-ly Possible in Scott's case." He may have been babbling. "We'll all be careful."
And that was someone else's voice. "Danny!" he declared, feeling flustered and cheerful at the same time. "Didn't see you there!"
"Obviously," Danny remarked, looking from Stiles to Derek and the jacket between them. Stiles hastily shoved it into Derek's arms. "Car trouble?"
"Oh, yeah, there was, but Derek was able to fix it." Of course, at the moment that was all supposition, but Derek didn't seem like the kind of guy who'd be unsure about his work.
"Cool," Danny nodded slowly, frowning at Derek speculatively. "We've met before, right? I thought it was...Miguel?"
Stiles actually had to stop his own hand from smacking himself on the forehead. Derek just gave him that, 'You are an idiot,' look as he carefully pulled his jacket back on.
"Yeah, long story," Stiles blurted out suddenly and awkwardly. "My bad."
Danny studied him curiously. "...right. I'm gonna go and..." he gestured with a thumb behind him to the DVD store. "You two have a good night. Enjoy your movie," he said significantly.
He left then and...wait, what? Stiles held up a finger. "Uh, that's really not what we-"
But Danny was already stepping inside the store.
Right. Okay then. "So, thanks!" he enthused, turning towards Derek.
Who was looking at him. "My first car was called Max," Derek told him randomly, and then vanished.
Betty started like a dream.
At school the next day, he found himself talking to Scott in the locker room. "Hey, when you think about Derek, do you ever think of him doing, like...regular stuff? Cleaning the toilet. Taking out the trash. Fixing a car." Stiles was used to thinking of Derek rattling around inside the remains of the Hale house alone, being sad and mysterious, surviving on nothing but his broodiness. These new little insights into his life outside of the werewolf stuff were throwing Stiles off-center.
Scott glanced at him, securing his right glove. "I don't really think about Derek at all."
That seemed unlikely. "Really? Even with everything that's gone on? The...Alpha-ness," he added quietly, glancing around the locker room. "You don't feel like that could affect you personally?"
"Sure, it could," Scott acknowledged, dropping his arm, "but until it does, I just feel like it's best to stay away from him for a while and not think about it at all."
Huh. Leaning against the locker, Stiles frowned as Scott jogged off somewhere.
Lately, all he seemed to do was think about Derek.