On the day she arrived at the Stilinski home, the Sheriff stayed in the driver’s seat for twenty minutes, fingers kneading her steering wheel anxiously. He had been muttering to himself the entire way back from the lot, all variations on: Am I insane? How can I give this to him? He’s going to kill someone. He’s going to kill himself. If his mother knew—
At these words, the Sheriff always stopped abruptly and fell silent for a few minutes.
Sighing, he opened her door at last and went into the house.
And then she met Stiles.
A loud crash—probably the front door banging open—heralded his arrival. He careened into view, limbs windmilling, stumbling a few feet before just standing there with his mouth open.
“It wasn’t a joke,” he muttered. “This is—this is mine.” He approached slowly, as though afraid she would vanish, and laid a reverent hand on her hood. “Holy fuck, I can’t believe it. Oh, you’re beautiful. Just beautiful.”
She preened under his attentions, hoping that the sun might curve a little more over the top of the house so that her sky-blue coloring would be shown to its best advantage.
“Aren’t you forgetting something?” a dry voice asked behind them. The Sheriff was standing there with her keys in his hand.
Stiles flung himself at his dad, enveloping him in a hug.
“This is so AWESOME!” he shouted, and his dad laughed, grinning, before becoming solemn once again.
“Now remember, Stiles—gas money comes out of your own pocket. And if I find your name on a traffic violation—”
“I know, I know; grounded for life.” Stiles snatched the keys and scrambled into the driver’s seat. “Now, little beauty, just—”
She rumbled to life, engine purring, and Stiles pressed a kiss onto her steering wheel. He was a bit too enthusiastic with the accelerator, and they shot backwards, the Sheriff yelling after them in alarm. But Stiles ignored him, and they zipped out onto the road. She was just beginning to enjoy the feeling of the wind whipping around her when a stop sign arrived, and Stiles slammed on the brakes. They jerked to a halt.
Well. He was excited, that was all. She concentrated on cooling the air blowing out of the fans.
Patting her dashboard apologetically, Stiles proceeded at a slightly more sedate pace. They drove to a house, and Stiles leapt out, running up to pound on the door. Another boy emerged, and she heard Stiles call him “Scott.” Stiles showed her off to him, and later, when they were driving around and Scott started munching on chips, showering the crumbs all over the seat, Stiles yelled at him and made him brush all of them off.
It felt lovely to have someone care for her so.
Oh, it was true that her brake cable was a little sore by the time they got back home. And perhaps Stiles had come alarmingly close to that other car in the parking lot of the drugstore—she’d had uncomfortable visions of dented fenders—but she couldn’t imagine wanting anyone else behind her wheel.
Even when it transpired that Scott not only dropped chip-crumbs all over her seats but also turned into a werewolf, which apparently meant that Stiles was suddenly involved in all sorts of things that could not only scratch her paint but might take out headlights, windows, or, at the worst, total her. Even then, she wouldn’t have gone back to the lot. Even then she wouldn’t have taken a nice couple in their thirties—with plenty of driving experience and whose only source of adventure was a bit of four-wheeling—over Stiles.
The snapped wires ached, short-circuiting painfully. And she could barely stand to look at the crumpled mess of her hood. The Alpha had wrenched it open, claws digging into her, and then ripped out her battery. She felt…violated and sick. She wanted Stiles. But he was trapped in that horrible school, the Alpha prowling around the rooftops, and she couldn’t even honk her horn, couldn’t do anything to help him.
At last the soothing red and blue flicker of police lights arrived. The Sheriff’s face was creased with worry, but then Stiles appeared. She knew he needed to give his father a hug and let him know that he was all right, but she couldn’t help feeling a little bereft.
Stiles didn’t say anything at first when he came over to her and put a shaking hand on her battered hood. “Fucking werewolves,” he muttered finally.
She agreed with his sentiments exactly.
“You’ll have to stay here tonight, baby,” he said, gingerly peering under her hood. “But we’ll get a tow truck over here first thing in the morning.”
The rest of the night passed terribly slowly, and then there was the ignominy of being carted through town on a tow truck—but when she was finally home, Stiles spent a whole hour vacuuming between and behind the seats, washing her windows, and cleaning out the assortment of candy wrappers in her glove compartment. He sighed when he saw the claw marks on her right side, tracing them with his fingers and looking unhappy. She knew he didn’t have the money for a paint job. But she didn’t mind, not really. It was a—a badge of honor. After all, how many other Jeeps bore the marks of a werewolf’s claws?
When Derek Hale climbed into the passenger seat, arguing with Stiles over a text message and Scott’s mother, she almost wished that her engine wouldn’t start. The last time Stiles had given Derek a ride, he had almost bled all over her seats and had been downright hostile towards Stiles.
After they arrived at the hospital and Derek slammed Stiles’s head into the steering wheel, she resolved to have a word with his Camaro about the kind of company it was keeping. And add some strong words to the effect that if it ever dared to bring Derek within a mile of the Stilinski house, she would personally ensure that it ended up totaled and hauled to a scrap yard.
Stiles disappeared inside the hospital, and Derek’s fingers drummed nervously on her dashboard. When Stiles called, Derek replied angrily—barking orders and demands—but then he froze, sucking in a breath.
“Stiles, get out of there right now! It’s him; he’s the Alpha. Get out!”
Derek leapt to the pavement, snarling, and raced towards the hospital.
Perhaps she wouldn’t speak to that Camaro quite yet.
Her fuel line had been giving her trouble for the past two hundred miles, but she tried to keep quiet about it. Stiles was having such a hard time right now—he didn’t need her to break down on top of everything else. The kanima, Gerard Argent, all these deaths—each night it took him a little longer to open her door and brave the dark walk into his house.
On the night when the Sheriff came home, downcast and tired, and told Stiles that he had lost his job because of what Stiles had done, her alternator cracked, just a little. Stiles looked so crushed, so guilty. She heated the air coming from the vents as they drove down the road, trying to warm up his cold hands, clasped around her wheel.
When he completed the circle of mountain ash, and his face lit up in triumph, she tucked the memory away carefully. She knew that they needed to keep things secret, that she couldn’t tell just any car in the parking lot about the werewolves and hunters who lived amongst them. But maybe one day, things would be different. And then she would tell every truck, van, and convertible exactly how Stiles had saved werewolves, solved mysteries, and had enough strength of will to do the impossible.
Stiles’s fingers were shaking so badly that he could hardly get the key in her ignition. She could see in the rearview mirror that he had been hurt, blood and bruises marring his face. Her engine revved angrily at the sight. She would run down whoever had done it—flatten them into the pavement.
Stiles didn’t put her into gear, just stayed hunched over the wheel, trembling. “I’m not a hero,” he mumbled. “I’m not.”
You are, she wanted to tell him.
She didn’t dwell on the Days Before Stiles too often. But sometimes the memories clouded her oil. The beer bottles littered all over her seats. The yelling and screaming. Slamming into that tree, the body in the seat falling limply to the side. Being poked and prodded at by strangers, and then thrust into that used car lot, price displayed so prominently on her windshield that she had wanted to weep from the shame of it every time a new model drove past.
You look after me. You love me.
Slowly, Stiles straightened up. He turned on her headlights. He stared at his reflection in the mirror for a long moment and then drew a deep breath.
His hands still shook, but he put her in reverse and started down the driveway.
They picked up Lydia a few feet farther on. She tolerated Lydia because of Stiles’s infatuation, but couldn’t say that she liked the girl.
As they drove, she listened as Stiles and Lydia talked, as he told her what had happened—what was going to happen. She understood that this might be it. That it might mean bodywork and a new engine—if they even managed to salvage enough to keep her going.
But when Stiles pressed her accelerator down on the floor, the warehouse looming before them, she gave him everything she had.
When it was all over, and she was just managing to convince herself that both of her headlights really were still there, Stiles wandered over to her. Allison, Scott, and Allison’s dad were huddled together, talking. Lydia and Jackson were still embracing. Peter, Isaac, and Derek were off sniffing around where Gerard had lain.
And Stiles was alone.
He bent over, pretending to inspect her grill and front bumper, but really hiding the tears threatening to spill down his face. After a moment, he pulled himself up and leaned against her hood, rubbing his thumb over her fender.
Derek suddenly appeared in the sideview mirror. He didn’t say anything, just waited until Stiles noticed, resting one hand against her side.
“What?” Stiles snapped when he saw him.
“I need to go look for Erica and Boyd,” Derek replied.
Stiles gave him a confused look. “Okaaaay. So go. Mr. Argent said that he let them out.”
“I need a ride.”
“You—” Stiles threw up his hands. “What am I? A goddamn werewolf chauffeur?”
Derek didn’t reply. He just climbed into the passenger seat. Grumbling, Stiles yanked open his own door and snapped on his seatbelt before throwing her into reverse.
“You okay?” Derek asked after a long minute of bumping down the narrow alley, Stiles’s foot jittery on the accelerator.
“Yeah.” Stiles reached involuntarily towards his face, remembered and flinched. “It’s nothing.”
Derek fell silent, then added, “You should get it looked at.”
“I got it. Thanks,” Stiles replied tightly.
Derek subsided into his usual brooding gloom, but his hand gripped her door handle—almost as though he had wanted to reach for Stiles, but had stopped himself.
After another fifty miles, her fuel line finally stopped working, and she sputtered to a halt, Stiles cursing and pleading with her to please not do this now.
They were very close to the old subway station where Derek was hiding out.
Stiles cajoled her awhile longer and then finally gave up and called a tow truck. He levered himself onto her hood while they waited, his legs swinging and gently thumping against her left tire. “It’s not your fault,” he told her. “I know that. I’m not angry. Well—maybe a little. Please don’t be expensive to fix. Please. God, I really need a job, don’t I? Am I going to have to resign myself to filling paper cartons with fries and overcooking frozen hamburgers?”
“Are you talking to your car?”
“Shit!” Stiles jerked, startled, and then glared at Derek, who had suddenly appeared on the sidewalk. “No, I’m not talking to my car. I was just talking…generally. To invisible people. Which sounds even weirder. Okay, yeah, I was talking to my car.” He sighed.
Derek didn’t say anything.
“Like you don’t talk to that flashy machine you drive.” Stiles jumped down, hitting the pavement with a thud. “Hey, can you drive when you’re wolfed out? Because I’m getting really sick of picking Scott up in the woods at three a.m.”
She hoped that Stiles never tested this hypothesis. The thought of werewolf claws on her upholstery…
Derek didn’t bother to answer. “Why are you here?” he demanded instead.
Stiles rubbed his neck. “Oh. Yeah. I’m just…hanging out. You know. Admiring the lovely street-corner vista.”
Derek stared pointedly at the graffiti, the empty cans clogging a culvert. Stiles fidgeted.
“You’re waiting for a tow truck, aren’t you?”
“Yeah. Well.” Stiles sighed again.
Derek didn’t look particularly happy either. Perhaps he had been hoping Stiles might have other reasons for being in the neighborhood.
“So,” Stiles continued. “It’s a…nice place you’ve got here.”
“It’s an abandoned subway station.”
“Exactly!” Stiles exclaimed nervously, watching as Derek drew a little closer. “Such ambiance!”
Derek looked glumly at the empty buildings around them, the gaping windows, and the cracked sidewalks.
“Very, um, urban chic.” Stiles cleared his throat. “I didn’t notice last time, given the blood and broken bones and Erica screaming. Actually,” he hastened to add, “there’s a really great pizza place near here—opened a few years ago, so you wouldn’t remember it. Although, I mean, werewolf nose! So you probably smell it every day. Eat there every week.”
“No? No. Well we should go some time,” Stiles babbled on. “Get a meat lover’s pizza. Save the Beacon Hills rabbit population.”
“Fine,” Derek snapped, probably just to get Stiles to be quiet.
They paused, both coming to the realization that they had technically agreed to a date.
“It’s a nice Jeep,” Derek said at last, awkwardly.
“Jeep?” Stiles repeated, dazed. “Jeep! My Jeep. Yes—yes, she’s been through a lot with me. Never let me down.”
She forgave him his momentary forgetfulness.
Derek perked up, looking relieved. “The tow truck is here.” A moment later it pulled into sight down the street.
The painstaking process of getting her hooked up ensued. She resigned herself to being towed through Beacon Hills. Again.
“Come on, I’ll give you a ride,” Derek said once the driver had gotten Stiles’s information.
Stiles clutched his cell phone. “Oh, you don’t have to; I can just give Scott a call and—”
“Come,” Derek repeated and started walking away.
Grumbling, Stiles jogged after him. He punched Derek on the arm when he caught up, and Derek grabbed the back of Stiles’s neck, giving him a light shake, like a puppy. The tow truck started to move, and she watched them disappear round the corner. The sleeve of Derek’s jacket hung down over his hand, but she could see that his fingers were almost touching Stiles’s flannel shirt.
She never liked being away from Stiles—missed the running commentaries that he would mutter to himself as they drove, worried that he might be getting himself into trouble without someone there to look after him.
But this time, it didn’t bother her quite so much. And when Stiles drove her back, fuel line fixed, and a Camaro was idling in the driveway…well, those 2010 models were a good year. She supposed she could trust it to carry Stiles.