Stiles is in the toy section at Target— because he is definitely not too old to be fighting with a nine year old over the last Special Edition DC Universe Classics Batmobile on the shelf— when he notices it for the first time.
On the side of a Hot Wheels play set is an illustration of a plaid wearing teenager with a buzz cut and a crooked grin, playing with a younger sibling. Stiles surrenders the Batmobile into the kid's grubby sausage fingers and picks up the box, amused, thinking to himself that if he ever needs the extra cash there is clearly a future for him as a live model. Admittedly, Stiles does sometimes feel a little like a walking cartoon character.
Two aisles down, he finds an eerily similar drawing of the same buzz cut guy on the back of a waffle iron, laying out the steps to successfully make a waffle. Three aisles over on a pack of medical guaze the character is demonstrating how to correctly wrap an injured wrist.
Stiles leaves the store marveling at this cosmic coincidence and ponders the existential significance of recognizing his own face on random store products. Does he have latent narcissistic tendencies? Or is this the same pile of nonsense as the people who claim to see the Virgin Mary in a Cheeto?
After that day, Stiles starts seeing the caricature all over the place. He can't stop seeing it. At the grocery store, at the gas station, at BestBuy, he keeps finding these drawings of the guy that's totally him on a vast range of products, and he begins to think he's going insane.
"Dude, I'm telling you, it's everywhere." Stiles is upset that Scott cannot seem to grasp his distress.
Scott chews slack-jawed on a Twizzler and says, "Are you sure this isn't like that time in eighth grade when the history channel convinced you that aliens built the pyramids?"
"First of all, I don't appreciate you insinuating that I am a conspiracy nut. I'm simply a guy who doesn't like to ignore possibilities and connections. Second of all, Big Hair Alien Guy's theories sound damn plausible to a fourteen year old. Third, this is absolutely nothing like that."
"You think some artist is out there obsessively drawing your face onto product packaging. That's crazy. You're being paranoid."
"Is it? Am I?!"
Stiles begins to buys things, so many things, at least ten things that have the drawing of Totally Him on it, and he sits down to analyze them with the intensity of a forensics expert trying to solve a string of serial murders. He notes that while all the drawings were executed through different mediums, he can decisively conclude that they were all produced by the same artist. The line weight is consistent, the colors are applied in the same fashion, the facial features are always depicted the same way— with a quirk to the lips and a slight upturn of the nose.
It is totally fucking him.
They are goofing off together in a Walgreens when Scott is finally convinced.
"Oh my god!" Scott says, picking up a —Jesus Christ, an enema? Really!?— "I think I'm starting to believe you!"
Stiles stares speechlessly down at the back of the packaging, where Totally Him is in his birthday suit with his butt up in the air because according to the directions that is the most comfortable position in which to insert things into your rectum. Beside him, Scott casually bursts into tears-and-snot-spewing, doubled-over, near-death hysterics.
"But why do you have to be naked?" Scott is still laughing three hours later.
Stiles is determined to get to the bottom of this because what the fuck. He takes a triple dose of Adderal and gets his Internet Detective on. He scans the illustrations in and reverse image searches the hell out of them all, only to have absolutely no useful results turn up. What working illustrator doesn't have a portfolio of their work online these days? The plot thickens into paste. Stiles compiles a list of all the product companies and researches where they commission their package designs and he goes straight to the source, sends out bulk emails expressing interest to hire the artist, complete with requests for info and pricing. A day later, he gets a name.
D. N. Hale.
Stiles shits approximately ten bricks.
He drives ninety miles an hour right onto the property line of the partially renovated Hale house—it's been a work in progress since October, the restoration advancing forward at the speed of a snail stuck in gum because the pack keeps having to stop and do annoying time consuming things like fight for their lives— and Stiles just starts yelling because he's too pissed to do something as calm and logical as knocking on the door.
"Derek! Derek, come out!"
When his shouts were met with no answer, he does the next most mature thing and starts hurling rocks at the house.
"Derek Hale get your ass out here I saw your car I know you're in there!" Stiles lobs another rock and it bounces off the second story window. The front door flies open, and Derek stomps out onto the porch, scowling with his entire face. Even his chin was frowning.
"Scream a little louder, please. Not enough of my enemies know exactly where I live."
Stiles pulls his arm back and throws a shampoo bottle at Derek's head—which Derek catches right out of the fucking air, goddamn werewolf matrix reflexes. "I don't even have hair, what am I doing advertising for NaturaLocks?!"
Derek looks down at the bottle in his hand, then back up at Stiles. "What are you talking about."
"Profiting off someone's likeness without their consent? Pretty sure that's illegal."
"I don't know what you're referring to."
"Really?" Stiles squints at him incredulously. "That's how you're going to play it? Okay. Sure. If it pleases the court, I'd like to present the following evidence."
He shrugs his backpack off his shoulders and yanks open the zipper, pulling out one item after another.
"—Here's me on the back of this modem teaching you how to hook up your WiFi. Here's me demonstrating how to change the battery of a home security alarm. Here's me installing a floating book shelf. Gosh I'm so knowledgeable, is there anything I can't do? And oh look, here I am showing you how to properly put things up your ass, take notes on this one, because that's exactly where you can shove your I-have-no-idea-what-you're-talking-about routine!"
Derek's face says: are you smoking crack cocaine? But his eyebrows say: oh shit. The eyebrows never lie.
"I know it's you," Stiles says pointedly. "They gave me your name."
Stiles huffs and glares, while Derek deeply contemplates a moss covered rock next to his shoe.
"It's something I do on the side." Derek says after a moment, matter of fact, like it's utterly mundane and uninteresting, the way someone would reveal they had a cream cheese bagel for breakfast.
Derek's dismissive, casual tone makes Stiles want to punch him in the liver.
"They're not supposed to be you. They're not supposed to be anyone." Derek explains slowly, like Stiles is five and still learning how to effectively converse with an adult. "They're just generic instructional illustrations."
"Shocked and mildly proud as I am of the fact that you actually have non-lethal hobbies and part-time employment, I came here to ask that you kindly knock it the fuck off. Draw Isaac, draw Boyd, hell, why aren't you drawing Scott, he's the one that makes fun of you the most."
Because obviously, this is a joke. A mean, vindictive private joke at Stiles' expense while Derek laughs all the way to the bank. Too many people are under the impression that Derek Hale doesn't have a sense of humor. Stiles knows better. He's seen it, been up close and personal with it. And it is sardonic and twisted just like Derek's soul. They've come a long way since the days of death threats and physical abuse—who is he kidding both those things still totally happen—they're kind of sort of maybe friends now, and they still razz each other all the time, but even Stiles the perpetual jester has his limits. Naked on the back of an enema is that limit.
"I told you, it's not you."
Did Derek just growl? Stiles makes a face like he's been slapped.
"You don't get to be angry! You don't get to be snide and patronizing and look at me like I'm crazy because I'm not crazy, I just don't ignore possibilities and connections and I've already connected all the dots on this one, solved it like Sherlock motherfucking Holmes, so don't you get all up in my face like this is that time we accidentally-on-purpose accused you of murder."
"Are we done here?" Derek folds his arms over his chest like he doesn't have time for any of this pettiness. "I'm making ramen and the soup is going to boil out."
Stiles sucks down several deep breaths—he realizes that he's beginning to look foolish— and scrubs his hands over his face.
"Fine. Whatever. Go enjoy your bowl of noodly sadness. And by the way, those are really bad for you. The seasoning packets are basically powdered cancer."
Derek suddenly looks like he has more to say, but Stiles turns on his heels and marches off into the trees. This conversation is over, it is so over, he is completely done with this, Derek can get commissioned to do a ten foot billboard of his naked ass on the side of the I-5 interstate for all he cares. Which he doesn't. He doesn't care.
"And he just totally blew me off like it was no big deal!"
"What were you expecting, an apology?" Scott mashes at the buttons of the Xbox controller like it owed him money. "You'll have more luck catching Derek's debut as the lead in Lion King on ice."
"At this point who knows what secret talents he's capable of. He can probably do quadruple front flip salchows while juggling swords. Flaming swords."
"We've been talking about Derek for like ten hours. I'd really like to stop now."
"The look he gave me." Stiles grumbles miserably. "You should have seen his face."
"Did it look like a butt?" Scott asks.
"A mountain of butts." Stiles confirms.
When he gets home from Scott's house that night, he finds a piece of note paper resting on the keyboard of his laptop. There is only one word scrawled across it.
No signature, no explanation. Stiles snatches it up and stares down at it.
"Can't even say it to my face." He mutters to himself, shaking his head, and sets the paper down onto his desk instead of throwing it into the trash. "...Butt head."
The following Wednesday, Stiles breaks his arm.
Stiles breaks his arm not because a monster snaps it in half, or because he got tackled by a wall of guys during a lacrosse game. Stiles breaks his arm because he fell over running down the stairs too fast.
"It's okay, you guys can laugh." Stiles says when he shows up to school with his arm in a cast. "I know that's what you're all doing behind my back anyways."
Lydia points a french manicured nail at his nose and laughs in his face. Allison nudges a disapproving elbow against her side.
"What?" Lydia says. "This is possibly the most hilarious injury I've seen in my life."
"Almost as funny as that time Stiles tripped on the stairs and broke his arm, right?" Isaac says.
"Or that time Stiles lost control of his momentum and got bitch-slapped by gravity?" Erica adds.
"...I rescind my permission, you unsympathetic demons."
Scott throws an arm around Stiles' neck and tugs him in affectionately. "Don't worry buddy, I'll come over and tie your shoes for you every morning."
"While you're at it would you also like to dress me, feed me, and perhaps bathe me?" Stiles asks hopefully. "Be glad I didn't break my jerk off arm or else I'd ask you to—"
Scott retracts his arm and starts walking off at a dramatically fast pace to the backdrop of group cackling.
During lunch, Scott takes a sharpie to Stiles' cast and doodles what Stiles can only assume is a wolf—it looks like a cross between a llama and a poodle—with a speech bubble coming out of its mouth announcing in all capitals letters: BEWARE THE STAIRS!!!
And suddenly, everyone is drawing and writing things on his cast. Allison writes in bubbly letters: 'You're still cool in my book! Bestiary, not bestiality.' She signs it with her initials and a heart. Erica writes: 'Batman: 0 Stairs: 1 xoxoxxxx.' Isaac draws a lopsided Pacman eating ghosts all along the length of the cast, and Boyd writes in red ink: 'Remember to look both ways before crossing the street, Stilinski.' Lydia doesn't write on his cast because she's above that, but she does leave him a card in his locker, and Stiles starts to feel less like the unwanted village idiot and more like the lovable town clown again.
After the latest let's-review-who's-trying-to-kill-us-this-week gathering, Derek walks up to Stiles and stares intently down at his cast. When Derek opens his mouth, Stiles immediately holds up a hand.
"Halt. Don't even ask."
"Is that a wolf?" Derek points at Scott's drawing, looking personally affronted by the poor attempt.
"Of course it is, are you blind?" Scott proudly defends his masterpiece.
"Oh," Stiles can't help but sound surprised that Derek is apparently passing on the chance to ridicule him, "I thought you were gonna ask about—"
"Your accident?" One of Derek's eyebrows lifts slightly higher than the other. "Erica and Isaac have been laughing about it for days."
"Demons." Stiles shakes his fist at them and receives two identical toothy grins in return.
Derek rolls his eyes, and reaches out to take hold of Stiles' cast. He lifts Stiles' arm with a noticeable amount of care, his other hand reaching inside his jacket pocket to pull out a pen. He bites off the cap, and puts ink to plaster. In the empty space next to Scott's llama-dog, Derek swiftly sketches out dark eyes, a muzzle, ears, and a sleek lupine body. Stiles' jaw falls open, and he gapes in pure wonder down at the lines of ink curving and converging, like he's watching a resurrection miracle take place right before his eyes.
"That's how you draw a wolf." Derek says through the pen cap between his teeth, letting go of Stiles' arm.
"Pwned." Isaac smirks at Scott.
"That's..." Stiles moves his eyes up to Derek in slow motion, "...kind of amazing."
Derek looks entirely unsure of how to respond to such a sincere compliment. He shrugs a little stiffly and says, "Eat well. Take some mineral supplements. It'll help you heal faster."
"Okay?" Stiles says, still in shock.
"Come on, let's go." Scott calls out, one foot already out the door. "My mom's making lasagna tonight."
Stiles is totally still mad at Derek about the illustration thing, but he can't stop the smile from surfacing. "Seriously, man. You should be using your artistic powers for good, not evil."
Derek gives Stiles one of his harder to read looks, and Stiles decides that instead of attempting to interpret that he is just going to turn around and follow Scott to the lasagna.
Two days later, Stiles receives another card.
It isn't placed inside his locker; he finds it resting on his laptop in his bedroom. On the front of the card is a beautiful hand drawn illustration. A lacross field. Totally Him Buzz Cut Guy is standing in the center of the field, brandishing a lacross stick above his head, smiling victoriously. Behind him, the bleachers are full of people cheering him on. The message inside is a plain and simple 'get well' with no signature.
"Oh my god." Stiles says loudly when he realizes who it's from.
Unlike the simplistic figures on the backs of all the packaging Stiles has been hoarding over the past few weeks, the art is more detailed and impressive than anything he's seen. Hours must have gone into this.
Except... on the bench in front of the stands, there is a strange, rudimentary little doodle made up of shaky, jittering lines. Stiles squints hard at it for a few seconds before recognition settles in. The doodle has a face that's melting downward in a mopey frown, a skewed jaw, and a misshapen banana for a head. Evidently, Derek had taken the time and effort to complete this beautiful artwork, then proceeded to crudely draw Scott in with his left hand.
Stiles nearly collapses onto the ground, he doesn't remember the last time anyone other than his best friend made him laugh this hard.
He has to walk to the Hale house this time. It takes him so long and he wonders how he and Scott ever went anywhere before his dad gifted him with the Jeep keys. This time, he knocks. Erica answers the door.
"Derek around?" The worst thing about the damn cast is not knowing what to do with that hand; Stiles can't fidget with it or shove it into his pockets, his only option is to hold it stiff and awkward against his side. "I need to talk to him about something."
"Naw, he's not. Doing rounds of the territory, said he'd be back later. We're about to head on our rounds. Or as I like to call it —me running and Boyd cursing two miles behind me because he can't keep up."
"Stop telling lies. It's not attractive." Boyd says.
"Okay." Stiles shrugs. "I'll... wait, I guess."
"Suit yourself." Erica breezes past him, gold hair tamed back in a ponytail, and Stiles marvels at how much shorter she seems when she's wearing trainers instead of lacquered pumps.
"Don't touch anything. And don't go upstairs." Boyd warns, stepping out of the house and following after Erica. "Not only because you might kill yourself, but there is a legitimate chance that Derek will rip off your cast and break your other arm with it."
Derek splits his time now between his new place and the Hale house, but on the days leading up to the full moon, more often than not he loiters around his old family home. The fact that Stiles even knows this about him has a few alarming implications that he'd rather not acknowledge.
Naturally, he ends up exactly where Boyd specifically told him not to go—up on the second floor, wandering curiously from room to room. He finds a stack of leather bound journals tucked in the corner of a book shelf, and he helps himself to one, cracking it open, hoping to find something useful along the lines of the Bestiary, but all Stiles sees is a graphite sketch of his own laughing face staring back at him on the very first page.
"What." He braces the journal between his cast and body and flips to the next page. It's another drawing of him, this time sitting down, with his legs stretched out. He flips the page. The next sketch is of him hunched over a laptop, chewing on a pencil. He flips again, and this time he's making an exaggerated expression, features scrunched comically. The next page has a close up of his arm and hand. The next one is of him napping on a couch. Page after page, it's all sketches of him.
Stiles tracks the progression of his hair through the drawings, from short, to long, back to buzz cut again, and realizes that the sketches date all the way back to sophomore year. On the last page of the sketchbook there's a pensive looking sketch of his profile with a distant, far off expression. Next to the sketch is a small line of scrawling text that reads:
What do you think about?
"Going through other people's personal possessions without their consent? Pretty sure that's illegal." Derek's voice says.
"Of course you're standing right behind me." Stiles sighs heavily. "Of course."
He turns, and Derek's leaning against the door frame, arms crossed, one eyebrow quirked in the 'what do you have to say for yourself' position.
"Remind me again, how many times have you broken into my room?"
"Six." Derek says without thinking. "Seven if you count that time I was poisoned with faery dust."
"I thought we agreed to never speak of that time again." Stiles shudders from the memory.
"I never touched any of your things." Derek points out.
Stiles lifts the sketchbook, refusing to let this be turned around on him. "So. You like to draw me, huh."
"...You're a good subject for figure studies." Derek doesn't even bother to look embarrassed while confessing to his art crimes. "You're very... animated. Energetic lines."
"Is that your subtextual way of saying you find me attractive?"
Derek stares at him very hard, unblinking, and Stiles loses the staring contest within five seconds, looking away to scratch at his face.
"Well. I'm... flattered, actually." He tells the floorboards. "And thank you. For the card."
"But you were so damn angry about the product packaging."
Derek sounds confused, which is pretty par for the course when it comes to the most clueless Alpha this side of the Rockies. Granted, these days Stiles does have to commend Derek on his improvement, he estimates that Derek only spends about forty percent of the time being confused, as opposed to back in the day when the percentage was in the high nineties.
"Because I thought the whole thing was just you making fun of me!" Stiles says, exasperated.
"You think I'm that juvenile?"
"Do you really want me to answer that?"
Derek frowns and adjusts his stance, uncrossing and recrossing his arms, the leather of his jacket squeaking.
"Seriously, though. Did you really think I wouldn't figure it out? You put me on no less than twenty products across the nation."
Derek closes his eyes like he's fighting off an aggressive migraine. "I didn't realize I was doing it."
"How do you not realize something you're doing in excessive amounts?" Stiles demands.
"I don't know Stiles, do you always realize when you're being excessively irritating?"
For a tense minute they seemed set to be locked into another one of their gladiator style verbal battles inside the thunderdome of snark.
"...Pizza pretzels." Stiles says.
"I think about pizza pretzels a lot. And how the ecosystem on a space colony would function. And the migratory pattern of blue whales. The ocean in general. I think about elementary school, when nothing was complicated, when peanut butter and jelly sandwiches could fix everything. I think about what Scott is going to do without me around to watch his back, and if my dad is going to be okay after I leave for college. And if you're ever going to notice this very inconvenient crush I have on you, you butt head."
Both of Derek's eyebrows catapult up into his hairline.
"Oh." Derek says.
"Yeah." Stiles says.
The floorboards creek as someone shifts their weight.
"You didn't..." Stiles rubs at his cheek, "I dunno, gross as it is, smell it?"
"No, Stiles. I can't smell feelings."
"That's not—I mean, like, heart beat, body heat, that sort of stuff."
"Your temperature is generally higher than average and your heart rate is consistently elevated when you're around wolves."
"Oh. So your super senses aren't defective. You're just dense."
That was definitely a growl. But Stiles is smiling now, sneakers scuffing as he walks forward.
"What does the 'N' in your name stand for?" Stiles asks.
"What's your legal first name?" Derek asks back.
Stiles blinks, then wags a finger at him. "Touché, my friend."
"I've been meaning to tell you," Derek's arms fall to his sides as he pushes off from the door frame to step towards him, the space between them gradually closing, "I don't really want to be your friend."
"Woah. No need to get insulting."
"The sketchbook should have clued you in on how much it's not an insult."
"Did you draw all of those from memory? I've honest to god never seen you with a sketchbook."
"Most of them. I don't have any photographs to work from. That would be creepy." Derek says with a completely straight face.
Stiles laughs and laughs, and it sounds like relief and excitement and happiness. He bridges the last few steps, slides his hand into Derek's jacket pocket, and pulls him close. "Tell me more about how you don't want to be my friend."
"Sure." Derek brushes his nose in against Stiles' ear, and Stiles can feel his smile. "But first, tell me the story of how you broke your arm. I hear it's a good one."