tiles was having an insane debate in the grocery store—Twinkies or Ho-Hos, God help me—when Derek literally almost scared the shit out of him for like, the millionth time in his very short life.
Stiles managed to not scream or make another unmanly noise when he turned around to find his not-so-favorite sour wolf standing behind him. "One day," he wheezed as he caught his breath, "one day you're gonna do that and I'm gonna drop dead. Like, stone cold dead, to death, no warning, and they'll wonder why an almost perfectly healthy sixteen-year-old boy had a massive coronary in the middle of the goddamn dairy aisle."
"This isn't the dairy aisle," Derek pointed out in that semi-infuriating neutral tone, like this was a totally normal thing. "And I don't usually follow you to the store."
Stiles rolled his eyes as he turned back to his inner junk food monologue—the crap that would probably give him a heart attack on its own at a future date. "Oh, right, that's because you're usually following me to school or lacrosse practice or Scott's house,or you're crawling in my window to watch me sleep. This must be so pedestrian for you."
Derek didn't move any closer, but Stiles could feel the unnatural warmth rolling off of him in waves. A spider seemed to skitter up his spine when Derek spoke, his breath hitting the back of Stiles' neck: "I followed you to the store from your house because you didn't go to school today."
"Yeah, you've got Three Dog Night to watch my every move at school—I almost forgot." Stiles thought fuck it and threw the Twinkies and the Ho-Hos in the cart—nothing like living on the edge. "What's up with you still stalking me, anyway? Would've thought you'd have better things to do, being the big bad Alpha and all." He tilted his head back and squinted at Derek's impassive expression. "Maybe work on your poker face."
Derek's lips twitched into something that would've resembled a smile on anyone else. "Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe that's called deflection." He looked Stiles over—took in the red sweatshirt, ratty jeans and clunky sneakers—and said, "I'm trying to be nice about this. Why didn't you show up at school today?"
Stiles had another witty retort ready to go, but then he messed up. He turned around to face Derek again, tried to reach past him to get a package of off-brand sticky buns, and winced when the movement pulled his stitches.
Judging by the way Derek's eyes widened and flooded crimson, he noticed.
Stiles hung his head and muttered, "Shit."
Then he was being pinned to the shelving and Derek's face was an inch from his own.
Stiles glanced around furtively and tried to dislodge the arm over his chest, hissing, "Dude, we're in the store. Y'know, downtown, where you're the ex-suspected murderer and I'm the sheriff's son? If you're gonna go apeshit, don't do it here." He eyeballed how long Derek's nails were getting and swallowed hard. "Why the hell would you go apeshit, anyway? It's not like you care what happens to—" Annnd fangs and growling and maybe that was the wrong thing to say. "Uh, okay, maybe you do? Care what happens to… me?" The shelf digging into his back started to groan and Stiles had a whacky mental image of Derek destroying the whole grocery store if Stiles couldn't stop putting his foot in his mouth. He hooked his fingers around Derek's wrist and squeezed, hoping he could remove the claws from the vicinity of his throat. "Let me finish getting food and we'll… talk, okay? Assuming you want to do that instead of ripping my face off."
Another growl rumbled through Derek's chest, but he backed off. Marginally. Enough that Stiles could breathe. He felt like a bug under a microscope as he rooted around in his pockets, found his shopping list and the coupons.
Stiles moved to grab the cart's handle, saying, "Screw the sticky buns, I'll make my own. I still have to—"
O… kay, Derek Hale was pushing his grocery cart. That wasn't, y'know, mind-boggling or demented or anything. Stiles wondered if the painkillers Scott's mom had given him at the hospital were actually hallucinogens, because there was no way this was happening.
"What else do you need?" Derek asked in a tone that was more like a demand with a snarl on the side.
Stiles found a pen and started crossing things off the list and wondered where they'd find his body when Derek was done murdering him. "Um, I need milk, eggs, some of those tiny pickles…"
They went through the store and picked up everything on the list, getting many an odd look from soccer moms and old ladies alike. After he paid, Stiles went to pick up the bags, but suddenly they weren't there anymore.
He followed Derek—who was carrying everything as though it weighed nothing (to him it probably did)—and said, "Dude, seriously? I'm not falling apart over here. I think I can probably lift a case of Diet Coke, I mean it's diet. Wow, nothing from the peanut gallery? Okay, am I gonna have to keep talking incessantly for my own amusement again? This gets tiring, you know."
"I wouldn't know because you're always doing it anyway," Derek responded, waiting for Stiles to find his keys and unlock the Jeep before putting the food down on the backseat and shutting the door. Then he had Stiles pinned against the car, crowding into his personal space. "What. Happened. To. You?"
Stiles sighed. "If you give a dog a bone…" Oops, there was that growl again. "Okay, okay. I may have joined my dad on a stakeout last night without giving him a choice in the matter. So we were in his cruiser—"
"Over by the park," Stiles answered, not sure why Derek wanted to know, but what the hell. "Apparently the cops have a crack narc making the rounds and using the park as a meet-up spot—it's a long irrelevant story. Anyway, we both heard this noise, like a weird scraping sound, maybe nails on a blackboard? It kept happening and waiting for the narc was like watching paint dry, so Dad went to check it out. Full moon was last night, so I freaked out 'cause I thought it might've been one of you guys… and I got out of the car." He blinked rapidly, looking at Derek but not really seeing him. "If I hadn't, my dad would probably be dead. So, uh, long story short something most definitely not human jumped us, and my dad has a broken leg and some cracked ribs and a concussion. I got the business end of the claws, and while I was bleeding to death I crawled back to the car and radioed for help, then I passed out and woke up in the hospital." He shrugged. "We got home this morning and there was no food in the house, so I decided to come over here and get some."
Derek was silent—shocker. Putting some distance between them, he asked, "The thing that attacked you, do you remember what it looked like?"
Stiles snorted. "Did you not hear 'bleeding to death'? But, yeah, I do. I think it was supposed to be a woman—it had, y'know, a rack—but if it was then it was one ugly chick. Long dark hair, these crazy-looking eyes, talons for hands… and I think she had wings. I only saw shadows, so I'm not totally—"
He made the mistake of blinking, and Derek was gone. "…sure. I'm not sure." Stiles turned in a circle, looking around the parking lot before shouting to nobody except the guy getting the carts: "Good to know you care!"
Stiles drove back to his house, fed his father (who ate like a ravenous bear and proceeded to start snoring with his face in his mashed potatoes) and reassured Scott for the umpteenth time that no, he wasn't dead.
"So you're really okay?" Scott's worried voice sounded tinny through the cell phone speaker—fucking AT&T and their damnable reception. "Are you sure?"
Stiles silently vowed to strangle Scott the next time he saw him—did the guy ever take a hint? "Yeah, man, I'm fine. Your mom probably made it sound like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre—the good ones, not the shitty remake." He was heading up to his room after getting his father settled in the first-floor guestroom. "Don't know what the hell tried to kill us, though… I ran into Derek at the store, and—"
That one got through Scott's impregnable skull pretty quickly. "Wait, wait—at the store? Like the grocery store? What the hell was he doing there? Does he even eat normal food?" A pause. "Is he following you around again?"
"You mean still."
"You mean 'still' instead of 'again', Scott. I don't think he ever stopped. I told him what happened and he took off. Maybe he knows what it was, or—"
"Dude, maybe it was him!" Scott cut in, with his usual lack of manners or definition of inside voice. "You've got, like, really huge claw marks all over you, right? What if he attacked you and beat up your dad?"
"Not unless he's gotten some wings and a serious boob job recently, and I didn't see any jugs when I—" Stiles stopped when he opened the door to his room and saw Derek sitting on the edge of his desk. "… Speak of the devil. Gotta go."
"Stiles, wait, what if he has those fake boobs cross-dressers use—"
"You're looming," Stiles observed, proud that he only jumped a little when he saw Mr. Stubble-and-Leather next to his chemistry textbook. "You're pretty good at it—must be a carefully honed skill, like that poker face thing we were talking about earlier."
As usual, speaking to Derek was like speaking to a brick wall… albeit a very sexy one that could talk when it chose to. "Have you changed the dressings on your wounds?"
"No," Stiles answered, and if he sounded defensive it was because part of him actually forgot to do it (thank you, Vicodin), and the other part was chickenshit and afraid to see what they looked like. The 'I forgot' excuse might seem a little flimsy considering the package of sterile bandages in the bag he was holding. "Uh, I—holy crap, Derek, what the—I liked that shirt, you ass!"
With no warning Derek had surged forward and used a claw to slice Stiles' shirt open, straight up the middle. As the tatters fell to the floor Derek also cut the bandages away, revealing a scattering of scratches and deep, stitched-up gouges that left Stiles' pale skin looking ravaged. They came in sets of four, furrowed like cornrows, and ran from his chest to just above his pants.
Stiles looked down at his body and made the mistake of blurting out, "Well, at least I'll have some cool scars."
Derek snarled and slammed a fist into the wall, chunks of plaster flying as his eyes flared red, fangs flashing. The effect was an odd mixture of beauty and danger, a sneak-peek glimpse of the animal living within him… okay, maybe a little too much of a glimpse, screw the poetry.
Stiles backtracked frantically: "Dude, you're gonna wake up my dad! I mean, he's higher than a kite in a hurricane, but he's got guns and shit!" Growling reverberated around the room and he added hastily, "Okay, scars aren't cool, apparently me having scars isn't cool. Even though I already have other ones. Uh. Okay? We agree—not cool. Just. Calm down." He felt around in the bag, grabbed the package of dressings and the tube of analgesic cream. "Here… the back kinda looks like the front. You could, uh, help me out, if you want. Instead of killing me."
He got a grunt in response, and then it was quiet. Like, dead quiet. Derek's teeth and nails receded, and the older man wordlessly took off the bandages on Stiles' back… with his fingers, this time. He inspected the injuries, put on the painkiller, and then started taping them back up again. The cream had a numbing effect, but Stiles could still feel Derek touching him, still shivered involuntarily at the sensation, still thought about all the other things those hands could do to him and hoped the owner of said hands couldn't smell how turned on he was.
Stiles resisted as long as he could, but he had to talk, because it was like breathing for him—necessary and usually reallyannoying. "I love how you go from smashing a hole through sheetrock to playing nursemaid in like three seconds. You, sir, have an interesting skill set." Nothing. No hint of a reaction. "What are you staring at, anyway?"
"Whatever did this to you wasn't planning on letting you go," Derek said in a low, controlled tone—apparently he had been analyzing Stiles' wounds while he was tending to them. "What made it stop? How did you get back to the car?"
"Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you—you Houdinied before I could—I baited it to the cruiser and grabbed the shotgun out of the middle console and blasted it." Stiles squinted, trying to remember details. "I think I hit it at least once, and it shrieked and ran off." When Derek just continued staring, Stiles rolled his eyes. "What? Just because everyone thinks I'm stupid doesn't mean I actually am."
"You're not stupid," Derek murmured, his voice not soft, exactly, but less sharp. "You can be a dumbass that says stupid things, and you can be stupidly reckless and stupidly loyal, but you're not stupid."
Stiles lifted his eyebrows—his weren't so big that they needed to set up biweekly meetings like Derek's, but he tweezed often. "That's probably the nicest thing you've ever said to me, but dude, have you seen my grades? They're in the toilet… not a literal toilet, obviously, but of course you've seen my grades, you're just that creepy." He grabbed some dirty clothes off the floor and tossed them in the laundry, then went over to the desk and groaned at the stack of homework Derek had arranged into a neat pile. "You couldn't have done it for me, too? That'd really clean this place up."
Derek snorted. "If I wanted to clean this place up I'd need a pry bar, a shovel, and a Rug Doctor the size of a third-world country."
"Wow, you know what a Rug Doctor is," Stiles grumbled as he sat down in his rolling chair. "My perception of you has changed completely. Huzzah." He rolled his neck and woke up his computer. "I'm guessing this isn't a pleasure visit despite the Florence Nightingale bit—you think you know what attacked me, right? You want I use Google?" He snorted, too. "Like I'd use anything else. Nobody uses Bing."
Derek said something, but Stiles was suddenly really, really distracted. The man—er, wolf, maybe man-wolf, like a combo item at McDonalds—had taken off his jacket and was leaning over him, one big hand on the back of the chair and the other on the desk, next to the laptop. He smelled like grass and ashes and darkness and it was sort of overwhelming, and Derek was warm, radiating heat like a blast furnace in the winter. His jaw was strong and that line seemed to run down his whole body, the man was ridiculously good-looking and he was just so close…
…and one of his arms was moving, fingers snapping in front of Stiles' face. He spoke again—which Stiles felt through where Derek's chest was pressing on his shoulder—and Stiles managed a deeply intellectual response of, "… huh?"
"If you ever tell anybody I just repeated a joke that included the word 'yahoo' three times and you still didn't hear it, I really will rip your throat out." Derek paused. "Actually, if you tell anybody I'm remotely willing to joke around with you, I'll rip your throat out with—"
Stiles feigned a yawn and finished the threat: "Your teeth. I know, I know, man—you ever heard about an old dog and new tricks?"
Derek's mouth was quickly up against his ear, and Stiles could practically feel the graze of fangs on his skin. "You ever heard of using your fucking fingers to type on a keyboard?"
Oh God, fingers and fucking in the same sentence. Stiles made a mental note to have his sexual identity crisis later and hope that the desk would hide his massive boner from the general public. "Yep, yeah, I think I have. What, uh, what am I typing?"
Derek's fingers—which had somehow gotten on Stiles' arm, how did he not notice that—curled inwards for an instant, burning hot and leaving bruises. He was across the room in a flash, like nothing ever happened, lying on Stiles' bed and saying, "Give me everything you can find on harpies."
"… annnd apparently they like to take things that don't belong to them. Like kleptos, pretty ones with talons and boobs, and I needed an interior designer so I hired Jackson because he just has this eye for color—dude, are you even listening to me?"
"Yeah, yeah, no, I'm listening." Scott's eyes were focused on Allison, who was standing at her locker as he and Stiles were coming down the stairs. "How do we figure out why the harpy's here, though? Just for you? And does it have a…" His eyebrows knitted together. "A… flock? Like birds?"
"From what I read it sounds like they're pack animals, kind of like you guys," Stiles said, "so there's got to be more of them holed up somewhere. And lemme tell you, Mr. Alpha is less than thrilled. He said something last night about rounding everybody up, like a search party, and trying to figure out where the harpies are roosting. I'd like to know why that chick nearly killed me." He belched. "That kinda sucked. The nearly-killing-me thing, not the burp. The burp was good."
Scott tried to pat Stiles on the shoulder, but it ended up being nearer to his face, and he ran off down the hall to slobber all over Allison.
Well, he didn't slobber on her, but there was some kissy-face and it was gross and why the hell had Stiles even come to school? The pain meds combined with his Adderall—which he had to remember to pick up after school, needed to do that, that was important—were fogging him out and that last dialogue with Scott was the most rational thing he'd said all day.
Not that talking about Grecian mythical bird-ladies was normal, per se, but it really wasn't up there on the weird scale for him.
Derek Hale, who had hung out in Stiles' room until two o'clock in the morning—prowling and breathing down his neck and reading Stiles' mother's beat-up copy of The Swiss Family Robinson with a measure of care—currently topped the weird scale. Then, to bring even more weirdness to the party (if that was even possible), Derek had actually thanked Stiles for translating what they could find in the Argents' bestiary about avis mulieres, AKA bird women.
And then he had hopped out the window and gone off to do… sour wolf-type things until the sun came up, Stiles didn't careabout it. He slept his remaining four hours like a rock and then woke up feeling like he was dead, even if that made no sense. Not that anything was making a lot of sense, because nothing made sense.
Stiles forgot to stop at Walgreens for his pills on the way home. Actually, he got "home" spectacularly wrong three times, pulling into driveways that were decidedly too nice to be his.
Really good drugs, man.
Stiles parked his Jeep in front of the right house (fourth time's the charm) and headed inside, dragging his book bag behind him like it weighed 300 pounds. The painkillers had worn off in his last class of the day, and just walking was an effort. He fumbled with his keys and got inside, locking the door behind him and going to check on his dad.
He was asleep in the guest room bed, a rerun of Days of Our Lives playing on the TV and a gun resting by his unbroken leg. Jesus, that guy was always prepared—unlike Stiles, who couldn't find his toothbrush without a twenty-minute adventure quest.
Things were going awesomely until Stiles stepped into his room and saw the four vertical talon marks etched into the glass of his window.
His hand flew to his chest, where an identical pattern had been carved into his skin. The wave of terror that washed over Stiles had him stumbling back towards the door—what if it's still there whatifit'sstillthere—and Derek was leaping out of the closet and clamping a hand over his mouth so he couldn't scream, dragging him into the darkness and yanking the door shut behind them.
Inside it smelled like dirty socks and moldy Doritos, even to Stiles' nose, so he couldn't imagine what it was like for Derek. But really, what the fuck was going on, why was Derek pressing him against the wall and… smelling him? What?
Wanting to shout but remembering that the harpy could be outside and that his dad was downstairs, Stiles whispered harshly, "Derek, what in the holy hell—"
"You smell like rotting birds," Derek growled.
That was a new one and Stiles couldn't help himself. "Dang, you really know how to turn a dude on—"
"Shut. Up." Derek's words were low and snarly and came with individual punctuation. "You smell like them, dumb ass—the harpies. I couldn't smell it last night with the stink from the hospital all over you, but I do now." His eyes flashed red, so close that Stiles noticed different shades of color, and thought that even though he was about ready to piss his pants, Derek's wolfed-out eyes were almost… pretty. "There's more than one and they were at the school with you, they had to be. Did you talk to Scott?"
Stiles' brain was stuck on thinking Derek's eyes were pretty, so he didn't say anything until he heard another growl. He played back the question in his head and snorted out, "Uh, yeah, as much as I ever talk to Scott. Which is to say, I talk and he makes disturbing pelvic thrusts in Allison's direction. So the answer is kind of a no. I did tell him about the wolfy treasure hunt later, but his brilliant theory is probably still that you did this to me."
For a split second Derek got even closer, enough that Stiles could feel his whole body pressed against his own, blazing warm and fiercely strong—he was boxed in. Eyes glowed red in front of him, and Derek's hands were on the wall on either side of his head, bracketing him in place. Stiles heard plaster cracking as Derek's nails grew, but he managed not to flinch. He knew he and Derek weren't on the best terms trust-wise, but Stiles was pretty sure Scott's idea was crap—if Derek had wanted to hurt him (there had certainly been plenty of times that was true), why the hell would he wait until now? Or keep saving his ass from certain death?
And then suddenly Derek was out in the bedroom, the door swinging wide open in his wake. In the closet, Stiles struggled to take a breath, to get the tingling under his skin to fade, to stop sweating unattractively. He sagged back against the wall, knees weak and heart pounding triple time, but not for the reason anyone would think.
Stiles hadn't been afraid of Derek trapping him in a tiny, dark space with no one else around—he liked it. In the absolute most perverted way possible.
"She's gone," Derek rumbled, from over by the window.
Stiles put on his best poker face and hoped Derek would chalk his elevated pulse up to fear. He emerged from the closet (ha) and came over to look at the scratched glass. "How do you know it was just one?"
"The scent's not very strong, so she was probably by herself," Derek replied. "Maybe her thing for you isn't a flock-sponsored venture. I doubt she'd chance making a solo move after what happened the last time." He made a noise less like a laugh and more like he had broken glass in his throat. The sound of it made Stiles wince. "Presuming we're not throwing me under the bus for something I didn't do. Again."
"Hey," Stiles started, tone defensive, "that was Scott's lame-ass idea both times, not mine, so you can shove it—"
Derek held up a hand. "Just… don't, okay? Don't bother." He opened the window and crouched on the sill, adding over his shoulder, "Stay inside, do your homework, and try not to die."
Stiles stuck his head outside and exclaimed, "What does that mean? I'm not invited down the Yellow Brick Road to find the mutated turkeys from Satan?"
Surprise, surprise—Derek was already gone.