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Unmovable & Unstoppable

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"Please can I just run him over?"

 

"No," Scott said, though there was a trace of sympathy in his voice.

 

Stiles gave a long suffering sigh in reply, but didn't wait for Scott to tell him to get out of the Jeep. Leaving the engine running, he went to examine Derek's dramatically collapsed body lying in the middle of the road. "That shade of green is atrocious on you," he commented.

 

Derek's grunt-groan was definitely of the 'going to kill you' variety, but on a scale of one to ten, Stiles gave it a 0.5, because it was hard to take seriously anything that was fresh-puke green. Derek looked at Stiles, eyes glowing briefly, and then passed out completely.

 

"Come on, we can leave the body here. I don't even have to run him over." Stiles gave Scott his best pleading look, but only got back a look that one day, Stiles knew, would be a very good Dad Look. Ugh, he didn't even want to think about there being Scott puppies running around someday. "Fine, okay. But if he throws up in my car or starts bleeding or whatever, you are so cleaning it up. My jeep smells like dog and puke and blood all the time now because of you. Never mind all the dents and scratches because you think 'anger management' and 'beat up Stiles' poor jeep' are the same—"

 

"Can we get him in the car, please?"

 

Stiles rolled his eyes; still he helped drag Derek over and into the Jeep. "What's wrong with him this time, anyway? On second thought, don't answer that. I would prefer to remain blissfully ignorant for as long as possible." Making sure Derek was settled, Stiles climbed back into the driver's seat. He glanced in the rearview mirror, then turned around to verify what he'd seen. "Oh, God, is he turning blue? He's turning blue. That's even worse than—actually, no, blue is a much better color on him. Huh."

 

"Drive, Stiles."

 

"Driving, driving," Stiles muttered, and drove. "Where are we going since we're obviously not doing anything fun now? Deaton is probably the best bet, yeah? 'People turning green' was definitely nothing he put on my lesson plans. I think Derek knows when we want to act our age 'cause he invariably appears bleeding to death or being all gloomy and dramatic, and now apparently green-blue and dramatic."

 

Scott gave him another look. Stiles ignored it very pointedly and settled for scowling through his dirty windshield as he abandoned all thoughts of carnival rides to hightail it to see Deaton instead.

 

"Where's his car?" he asked as they dragged him out of the Jeep and into the vet's. Thankfully, the place was empty as ever save for the perpetual collection of house pets. Deaton gave them one of his creepy, Zen-calm witchdoctor looks but didn't protest as they got Derek on the table. "You should really be charging for this," Stiles said. "As often as werewolves trot in here full of holes or turning blue."

 

"It all evens out in the end," Deaton replied, and began to poke and prod at an increasingly blue-looking Derek. He paused as he found a bite on Derek's bicep. "That … " He frowned thoughtfully. "That can't be. We aren't near the ocean here. And he shouldn't be reacting that way. He shouldn't be reacting at all."

 

He turned away and fussed with his special collection of fairy dusts and magical elixirs, finally choosing one that was, appropriately enough, light blue in color. He injected it, eyes still narrowed in thought.

 

"Oh, hey," Stiles said. "I think he's fading from ocean to baby blue. Derek gets to live another day. My heart beats with joy. Seriously, we could have just left him in the road."

 

Scott shot him yet another look—really, it must be a wolf thing to think staring counted as holding any sort of conversation—then turned to Deaton and asked, "What is it?"

 

Deaton pointed to the bite that was finally healing and said, "He was bitten by a mermaid."

 

Stiles burst out laughing, slapping the table in amusement. "Mermaid, right." He shut up at the look Deaton gave him. "Oh, God. You're serious. Why can't you people ever be joking? Mermaids—what the—no, seriously, what? Where? Mermaids live in oceans. I can't believe I'm being serious now. Mermaids don't exist. Why haven't you ever mentioned them before? Great. Why is a mermaid plaguing us? Why did it turn Derek all green and blue?"

 

"He's allergic to it, I think," Deaton said.

 

"Allergic to a mermaid?" Stiles started laughing again, because somehow that was unbearably funny.

 

And then suddenly he wasn't laughing, and his head hurt.  He frowned as Derek's grip eased slightly and his head fell to fall against Stiles' shoulder, breath hot against his throat. "Been a while since you've actually shoved me into a wall, Gloomy Smurf. Mermaid allergy got you regressing? I thought we almost had you house—" he stopped as Derek lifted his head to glare. "Your stupid death glares don't work on me. Neither does the manhandling. Excessive overuse of force by hunters and werewolves and everything else that goes rawr in the night around here has inured me. So leggo."

 

Derek seemed to shake himself, then slowly let him go and turned to Scott and Deaton. "There's a mermaid in Beacon Hills."

 

"We got that part," Scott said. "What do you know about mermaids? How bad is it?"

 

"This time of year it only wants one thing," Derek said.

 

"What?" Scott asked.

 

Deaton replied, "Children. They only come on land to mate."

 

Stiles laughed again. "Wait. Wait. So it tried to get its thing on with Derek and he's allergic to it. Derek's allergic to getting laid by—" He stopped as Derek glared. "Your glares aren't very scary when you're still kind of blue."

 

"Then why is your heart pounding?" Derek asked.

 

Before Stiles could reply to that, Scott snapped, "Enough. Let's focus on the mermaid. So what, it's looking to attack someone to—uh—"

 

Deaton looked like he wanted to smack all of them. "To get pregnant, yes. But be careful. The term 'mermaid' is a misnomer—they aren't confined to any gender. They'll go with whatever they feel like, or whatever their target prefers. You could be looking for anyone."

 

Stiles thought longingly of carnival rides, popcorn, and cotton candy. A stupid, simple, ordinary day with just his best friend, something they hadn't done in forever since Scott was always off with Isaac or busy with school or pining for Allison.

 

Then he put it all away and got to work. "So, can it look like anybody?"

 

"No," Deaton said. "That's something else. If I had known mermaids were going to show up here, I would have put them up higher on your lesson plans, Stiles. Rest assured the mermaid can't take another's form."

 

Stiles really didn't like knowing there was a creature that could do the cloning thing, but he firmly believed in dealing with problems only when they turned green and lay in the middle of the road. He just wished Scott would let him run problems over more often. "Okay, at least I don't have to deal with something terrifying like a suddenly girly Derek—okay! Okay! No more shoving! Jeez, you're extra hostile today. Simmer down."

 

Derek just shot him a look, then resumed ignoring him in favor of turning to Scott and pronouncing his absolutely favorite thing to say. "We need to kill it."

 

"We aren't killing it because it hasn't done anything yet," Scott countered. "What exactly happened with you that it was able to bite you?"

 

"It was on my property. Bit me before I realized what it was going to do," Derek said stiffly.

 

Stiles frowned. "You tried to throw her around. This is why you need to stop grabbing people and shoving them up against things." Derek growled and Stiles raised his hands in defeat. "Yeah, yeah."

 

"You two are always worse after you don't see each other for a while," Scott said. "Also, stop it. What do we need to do to this mermaid before, knowing our luck, it turns into something way worse like a, a—"

 

"Kraken?" Stiles interjected.

 

"What's a—never mind," Scott added hastily. "What do we need to do?"

 

Deaton looked pained, but said, "It wants to reproduce. Find a way to help it with that or run it out of town."

 

Stiles buried his face in his hands. "I do not volunteer. No way. This sounds suspiciously like a 'eats the male to feed the babies' sort of thing."

 

"Nothing that severe," Deaton said. "But the bite that makes her chosen partner compatible also has the side effect of making them very enamored."

 

Groaning, Stiles said, "So basically whoever she bites that is not allergic to her is going to start acting like Scott—" he broke off, but too late, from the kicked-puppy-times-a-million look on Scott's face. "Um. Oops."

 

Derek looked like he wished the allergic reaction had just killed him. Stiles vehemently agreed. Motioning impatiently at Deaton, he said, "Would you stop doling the information out piece by torturous piece and just hit us all at once? Please? What is it with you people and dragging it out? It's going to take me a million years to learn everything."

 

For a moment it looked like Deaton was going to give the long suffering sigh he was obviously feeling, but in the end he maintained his calm and said only, "The mermaid is looking to get pregnant. It will look for a suitable partner, make him compatible with it, and then try to leave—with its new mate in tow, whether he can survive life in the ocean or not. The effects of the bite do eventually wear off, but it varies from person to person. That's where the legends about mermaids and sirens enchanting people originate. The bite enthralls to the point that even just hearing its voice will drive its mate to distraction. If not left alone to do what it wants, the mermaid will turn violent."

 

Stiles groaned. "Derek! Why did you have to go and be allergic? We could already be rid of it and you—"

 

He yelped as Derek rounded on him—then realized Derek wasn't going to do anything else, except stand there smirking. "Oh, shut up."

 

Scott and Deaton sighed.

 

"I'm going to go find it," Derek said, and strode out before any of them could reply. Stiles rolled his eyes. "Thanks for the help, Deaton."

 

Deaton nodded, turned to the other two. "Go home, or go out like you were planning to, I'm sure Derek can handle finding one mermaid. If nothing else, they have to return to water every twenty-four hours and that will narrow down where she goes. It shouldn't ruin your weekend."

 

Scott and Stiles both nodded, but outside in the Jeep they only had to glance at each other to know they were going to find it themselves. "Let's go to my place," Stiles said. "We can figure out what to do from there, and maybe forage for more information."

 

They drove in silence the rest of the way back, then clambered out of the Jeep and up to his room.

 

Grimacing at the werewolf-induced headache that would not back off, Stiles picked up his book bag and rifled through it. "Where's my aspirin?"

 

"You used it all after that thing with the pixie, when Derek threw you out of the way. You hit something, remember? The wall of that cabin? Or was it a boulder? A tree? He threw you into some sort of unmovable object, anyway."

 

"He's an unmovable object," Stiles muttered, and gave up, dropping his bag on his bedroom floor and heading to get some aspirin from the bathroom. He popped three of them, swallowed dry, then returned to the bedroom and fired up his laptop. "Okay, so we need, what, to create an online dating profile for this mermaid? What are the places cool mermaids hang out these days? We don't have to go back to Jungle, I hope. I still owe—"

 

He broke off as he turned and saw Scot wasn’t listening to him, way too busy texting to care. Stiles ignored the irritation and flutter of panic that rose up and mustered a grin. "If you're not too busy chatting with your boyfriend—"

 

"Oh, whatever," Scott said lightly. "Isaac needs to know what's going on."

 

Stiles rolled his eyes. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure Derek will let him know."

 

"He hasn't seen Derek yet," Scott explained. "He said he'll keep an eye out and let us know if he sees anything."

 

"So what's our plan?"

 

"Keep our eyes out," Scott said. "We don't know what to look for, really, other than a stranger extra determined to flirt with everyone, right? There's no way to really hunt for it, unless we want to try to keep the entire city away from water for twenty-four hours and see who goes nuts."

 

Stiles made a face because there had to be a better plan than that ('cause even if he had saved the day with Gerard, the plan had been stupid and reckless and sneaky and what was with werewolves and keeping things secret? Stiles still didn't know the answer to that question), but there were reasons Scott was rarely the brains of the outfit even if he did lead well (when he could be bothered and could focus, which was mostly never because he couldn’t have leadership getting in the way of Stoic Suffering over Star-Crossed Love Affair). "Fine," he said, but before he could decide between getting rid of Scott so he could come up with a real plan or needling Scott until they came up with a plan, his phone chimed to remind him he was supposed to take dinner to his dad. He'd meant to turn it off since he and Scott weren't going to be around, but since he was home he may as well make sure his dad ate. "Gotta go. You have fun with the other boys. Try not to get seduced by a mermaid. I'll catch up with you in a bit."

 

He bolted before Scott could reply, grabbing leftovers from the fridge that could be heated up at the station. Setting the container in the passenger seat of the Jeep, he climbed into the driver side and drove off.

 

When he actually made it to the police station without being attacked in any way, shape, or form, Stiles almost died of shock. Grabbing dinner, he took it inside—and stopped short when he found the place had gone crazy. "What's going on?"

 

"We hauled in some drunk and disorderly," said Beth, the officer on duty at the desk. "They're sick with something and it's causing all sorts of trouble. Give me that and get out of here before you get sick or punched or set the place on fire. Go. I'll tell your dad you were here and that you went home. Because you are."

 

"Going home, you got it," Stiles said and smiled, obediently handing over his dad's dinner and bolting—but not before he noticed a couple of people with a distinctly Smurf-looking complexion.

 

Outside, he climbed into his jeep and promptly texted Scott. No reply, no reply. He tried calling—nothing. Typical. Squashing that thought because it would help nothing, Stiles decided what he should do next. Research was necessary, of course, but he didn't want to waste the chance to gather more field data. It would all be a lot easier—safer—if he had Scott with him, or any assistance at all. He ran through his list of options:  Scot (unavailable), Isaac (probably with Scott), Jackson and Lydia (Caribbean), Peter (never an option), Derek, or just work alone. As options went, they pretty much sucked.

 

God, he hated when his only options were 'work alone' and 'call Derek'.

 

Work alone it was, because no way, he was not spending his night with a cranky Derek.

 

Okay. Where there were two sick people there was probably more, and people turning blue tended to be taken as a serious problem. He guessed, anyway. Diseases, that's where he should start his research. If it had happened before, it wouldn't be filed under 'mermaid allergies', it was likely to be under 'contagion' or 'epidemic'.

 

Anyway. Hospital first. He drove there as quickly as he could get away with—and totally threw an internal temper tantrum when the only free space was next to a familiar black Camaro. Because life hated him. "I'm going to key his car, I swear," Stiles muttered as he climbed out of the Jeep.

 

"Don't even think about—"

 

"Ah!" Stiles whipped around, arms flailing, landing a rather decent smack on Derek's chest.

 

Derek narrowed his eyes. "What are you doing here, Stiles?"

 

"There are some blue people at the police station. Came to see if there were more here, since that makes four attacks already in like, what, two hours or so? Sounds like the mermaid is bound and determined to tap something tonight. Why are you here?"

 

As per usual, all he got was the 'I don't have to explain myself to you' look.

 

Stiles weighed his options, decided he did not feel like a long ramble, and went with kicking Derek in the shins as hard as he could possibly manage. That got him an actually rather amusing look of incredulity as Derek's hand fisted in his shirt and yanked him close. There was a faint smell of chocolate on Derek's breath. "I thought dogs were allergic to choc—okay, okay, not funny, I get it."

 

"Tell me why I shouldn't crack your head open, Stiles."

 

"Because I'm sure you have better ways to spend your night than in lock-up. Again. Also the nurses like me better, even if they think you're hotter. You know how this goes. Now come on, we have work to do. Why are you here?"

 

Derek gave him a last hard shake for good measure, then let him go and begrudgingly explained, "I was driving through town, saw an ambulance at the Beacon Bar & Grill. People were screaming about turning green and blue. I came here."

 

"Awesome. So all kinds of people in town share your little allergy. That's a little weird. Is this going to turn into some weird incest thing? God, I will kill myself if I'm your cousin six times removed or something. Seriously."

 

Baring his teeth in a way that definitely said Derek wouldn’t do anything to stop him, Derek led the way into the hospital ER where, sure enough, Stiles saw at least eight people with blue or green skin. "I don't suppose what Deaton used to cure you was one of those multi-species cures?"

 

"It was just a werewolf remedy," Derek said.

 

Stiles sighed. "Of course. All right, then. You know the routine:  you do your dark, handsome, brooding thing, I ask questions, we get answers and quickly go our separate ways."

 

Derek grunted. Stiles silently agreed—when he reached the point he had an interrogation routine with Derek Hale … well, if he could rethink his life choices he might, but he couldn't, so instead he just led the way inside.

 

If there was one thing he had learned in life, it was that sneaking around was a lot easier than it should be. All he had to do was avoid Scott's mother and the few nurses who knew him through her, and the rest was cake.

 

He tried not to be depressed by how well he knew the hospital.

 

Ten minutes tops took them where they needed to be, peering through glass at about a dozen blue and green people. "Quarantined. That's going to be a little more difficult to work with," he said. He peered around for a viable source of information and saw a young-looking nurse who did have the look around her eyes that most of the veteran nurses had. "Stay here and stare anxiously through the glass. Try to look sad, that always gets to them."

 

Pretending not to notice the look that got him, Stiles went over to the nurse and beamed. "Hi! I'm looking for a friend of ours. Well, his cousin really." He gestured to Derek who was more glaring through the glass that staring anxiously but Derek was nothing if not a work in progress and hey, he was trying. "Cousins, but they're like this, like siblings. It's almost frightening—and anyway, we were supposed to meet her at the Bar & Grill but that place is crazy and she wasn't there and we heard about people being sick so we're hoping she's here and you can tell us—"

 

"Stiles!"

 

He jumped, spun around, and swore when he knocked into a phone on the nurse's station that fell to its demise on the floor, taking out a pencil holder and a stack of folders with it. "Oops. Sorry, sorry. Umm—Mrs. McCall—ow, ow, ow—" He shot Derek a look before he was dragged away by his ear into an empty room.

 

Locking the door behind them, Mrs. McCall crossed her arms over her chest and said, "This is a thing, isn't it? What's happening to those people?"

 

"I'm not honestly sure I can say it with a straight face." At the look on her face, he decided to try. "A mermaid is going around biting people, but it looks like everyone is reacting badly to the bite. We don't know why; that’s why we came here."

 

"We?"

 

"Me. Me, me, me. Scott is doing something else. Something safe and not stupid. Presumably. He's with Isaac."

 

She actually looked mollified by that, which irritated Stiles for reasons he couldn't name and didn't feel like figuring out. "Wait here. I mean it, Stiles—wait here. I'll do what I can. But you know, for once you could try leaving this stuff to the adults."

 

"Hey, I'm all for it," Stiles said, holding up his hands. "I wanted to go to the carnival. But what are you gonna do when people start turning into Smurfs? Which actually doesn't make sense, because Smurfs don't live in water, they live in the mushrooms they smoke up—" He fell silent as she left, and looked around the break room. Oh, cookies.

 

He'd just taken a rather large bite of a sugar cookie when the door opened and Derek slipped in. Stiles held out a chocolate chip cookie. Derek looked at it like it was a snake. Finishing the sugar cookie, Stiles said, "Dude, you're not fooling anyone. You were eating chocolate earlier. I am not going to think less of you for eating a cookie. I promise you're still quite terrifying or whatever and quite capable of tearing and sundering."

 

Derek ignored him. "What did she say?"

 

"She's snooping for us, the rest was just the usual. I don't suppose you've heard from the intrepid duo?" He pulled out his own phone and saw a great fat zero texts awaiting him and zilch for missed calls. Shoving it back in his pocket, he ate the cookie that was apparently not good enough for Mr. I Live On Anger and Sulking. Fair enough, Stiles supposed. "What do you suppose they're doing? Shouldn't you know?"

 

"Isaac was gone when I got back, though he sent me a text saying he was going to see Scott."

 

Stiles grunted and swiped another cookie, contemplating calling Scott himself and then deciding it didn't really matter. They could talk later, after he and Derek got some real info at the hospital and wherever it led them. "These cookies are really good. Your loss." He alternated between mowing down cookies and beaming at Derek just to see his face start twitching, wondering which one of them would break first this time.

 

He thought he almost had Derek to the breaking point when the door flew open and he realized belatedly that Derek really should have gone away because that expression was exactly why they generally tried to keep Derek out of Mrs. McCall's line of sight. "Hello, Derek."

 

Derek said nothing, though Stiles thought he shifted slightly away from her.

 

Stiles finished his latest cookie—oatmeal, better than the sugar, but not better than the chocolate chip, and it was a shame all the double chocolate had clearly been eaten—and said, "So did you learn anything?"

 

Heaving a sigh, pressing fingers briefly to her temple, she said, "They're still figuring it out. They don't even know what it is … but they think it's … it's like—it's like whatever is making them sick is doing so because it's gone bad. Like taking expired medicine or something."

 

"Expired?" Stiles said, and looked at Derek, who looked just as confused. "Guess you're not allergic to mermaids after all. The mermaid has gone sour."

 

A sudden, frantic call came over the intercom and Mrs. McCall swore and turned to the door. "Go home, Stiles. Let us handle it. Tell Scott he had better be home before midnight. And you—" She jabbed a finger at Derek. "Stop dragging them into trouble. I will tell his father if that's what it takes."

 

With that warning administered she left, slamming the door behind her.

 

"Oh, yeah, because that would end so well for me," Stiles said to no one in particular. Like hell anyone was telling his father; he had enough to worry about.

 

"Let's go," Derek snapped.

 

Stiles swiped one last cookie for the road and followed him through the hospital. Outside, standing by their cars, he asked, "So why would a mermaid go sour?"

 

"It sounds like magic," Derek said.

 

"Where is creepy, murdering alpha, by the way?" Stiles asked. "Surely he'd know what all this is, if Deaton doesn't."

 

"Out of town."

 

Dropping that line of conversation, Stiles switched back to the whole expired thing. "So I guess our next plan is to find the mermaid."

 

"Which I can do by myself," Derek said. "Go home, Stiles."

 

"Go home, Stiles. 'Cause you so would have gotten any of that information without me. One of these days I'm not going to be around and then you'll all be sorry because you won't get anything done." He took a vicious bite of his cookie and stalked over to his Jeep and drove off, ignoring the feel of Derek's scowl.

 

He could go home, and probably could manage to learn something online or from the books Deaton had given him, but he sensed that was going to be a whole lot of wading through page after page of The Little Mermaid and drunken sailors hitting on manatees or something.

 

An ambulance blew through the intersection and headed down the street for the hospital. Stiles opted to go down the street it had come from, hoping he'd pick up more of a trail.

 

He saw a second ambulance light up as it pulled out of the ice cream parlor favored by the middle-school crowd—weird, was the mermaid biting children now? Ugh, he hoped not because that was all sorts of highly illegal skeevy and gross and wrong. Parking his Jeep, Stiles swung out and looked around at the clusters of freaked-out looking people, picking up snatches of conversation about blue people and a weird girl who had run away.

 

"Stiles!"

 

"Hi, Dad," Stiles said. "Just stopping for ice cream."

 

His father didn't even try to comment, just pointed to his Jeep.

 

"What's wrong with just getting ice cream? Is that a crime now? What's going on, anyway? Somebody—"

 

"Somebody is running around attacking people, leaving them in comas. Get home now, Stiles. I'm serious. Why aren't you out of town with Scott?"

 

"Something came up. Home I go," Stiles said, and drove the Jeep two blocks away. He started to double back, but stopped when he heard someone crying. Looking around, he finally found the source sitting on the curb in a wide gap between two parallel-parked cars. "Hey, are you okay?" he asked.

 

In the fading evening light, she looked sad, dirty, and totally lost. She also reminded him of a dark-haired, non-creepy Lydia. Though thinking of her had finally stopped leaving him feeling like he'd been punched (a feeling he was entirely too familiar with and was likely only to get to know better in the coming years), he was still helpless to her—or anyone, really—crying like that.

 

He took her hands, ice-cold to the touch and clammy. "It's okay, shhh. What's your name?"

 

She shook her head, then slid long, pretty fingers along her throat.

 

"You can't speak?" Stiles asked, and a slight prickle of alarm crawled along the back of his neck. No way, that was too stupid to be real and also what were the odds he'd find the mermaid? Then he recalled his life and decided obviously he would stumble across the mermaid. Who was a scared, crying girl. 

 

He pulled out his phone and punched in a hasty, Found her. He and Scott were going to have words later about the fact he had to text Derek because he couldn’t trust that Scott would pick up and come help him. He shoved the phone back in his pocket and then helped the mermaid to her feet, smiling reassuringly. "Are you all right? Not hurt or anything?"

 

That just made her cry harder, and cover her mouth with one hand. "Shh, shh," Stiles said soothingly, patting her shoulders. "It's okay. We'll help you. Just stop biting people for now, okay?" She gave him a wary look, and then eventually a slow nod. "Awesome," Stiles said. "Now—"

 

He broke off as he heard a car stop behind them and saw black out of the corner of his eye. "You got here—" The mermaid tensed, eyes going wide in terror, and Stiles whipped around and stood up, putting himself between the mermaid and the asshole in an expensive suit stepping out of a black Mustang. Damn, he really needed to remember better to carry his kit with him at all times.

 

"There you are," the man said with false congeniality. Stiles tensed, because he knew what it meant when someone had eyes that hard—nothing good, and usually something painful. Damn it, he hated surprises. Weren't the known problems enough? No. There had to be secret levels and hidden bosses.  "Come along, sweetheart. It's time to go home."

 

Standing up as tall as he could manage—still woefully short next to the guy who was suddenly looming but didn't loom anywhere near as well as a certain werewolf—Stiles said, "I don't think she wants to go home with you. Just scamper off like a good creepy dude and go skulk somewhere else. I have it on good authority that the woods are great for that. You're even meeting the leather jacket dress code, good jo—" He broke off with a pained grunt, stumbling back into the mermaid and sending them both to the sidewalk

 

At some point, it really seemed like getting punched should stop sucking so much. Stiles slowly stood up again, wiping blood from his lip before he said, "Hi, Derek."

 

The man whipped around, but too late as Derek grabbed him and slammed him into the hood of his car. Stiles winced at the damage to the unfortunate Mustang 'cause, really, what did the car ever do to anyone? Poor cars, they were the real victims in werewolf shenanigans.

 

Yanking the guy up again—Stiles was impressed he was still conscious, if here 'impressed' meant 'alarmed'—Derek demanded, "Who the hell are you?"

 

"Interesting, I thought the Beacon Hills pack had been wiped out by hunters. Give me the mermaid. She's of no concern to you, and if you let me have her we'll go without trouble. Refuse and I'll see you regret it."

 

"No," Stiles said. "Nice boys don't let girls go home with creepy assholes." He shot Derek a look. Grunting in annoyance, Derek nevertheless went along with him. Yanking open the door of the Mustang, he stuffed the guy back into his car with a growled, "Get lost."

 

The guy fumbled for a minute, then started the car. Turning away, Derek rumbled at Stiles. "What are you—"

 

"Look out!" Stiles shouted even as he threw himself forward to knock Derek out of the way. Too late, unfortunately, as he saw the dart in Derek's arm. "Damn it." Stiles pulled the dart out, shoved it into his jacket pocket, and clambered back to his feet in one smooth move. The asshole realized his error, but not in time to prevent Stiles from punching him through the open window. Deciding that the Derek School of Dealing with Your Enemies was the better part of getting the hell out of there, Stiles slammed the guy's head into the steering wheel and then pulled out his pepper spray and used it with enthusiasm. Shoving him out of the way, he stole the guy's keys and threw them blindly.

 

Leaving the bastard suffering, he gestured to the mermaid. "Go, run. The Camaro—that one right there. Go, go, go." He knelt beside Derek, white and ill from wolfsbane poisoning, and hauled him to his feet. "That is human: seven, wolf: five on the rescues this quarter."

 

"Six," Derek bit out.

 

Stiles realized he wasn't counting the dramatic arrival of a few minutes ago. "Yeah, okay. Seven to six, but I'm still in the lead so suck on that. Also we're taking your car; it'll be less suspicious to leave my Jeep here."

 

Derek said nothing. Sighing, Stiles got him over to the car and, after the mermaid was settled in the back, stuffed him into the passenger seat. He bolted down the street to his Jeep and yanked open the glove box, pulling out his Werewolves Are High-Maintenance Drama Queens kit, then ran back to the Camaro.

 

He glanced toward the Mustang, but their mysterious new villain still seemed preoccupied. Slamming the car door shut, Stiles opened his case and asked, "Know which strain he hit you with?" Derek didn't reply and Stiles looked up to see he was cold stone out. Only a couple of types of wolfsbane tended to hit Derek like that.

 

Making an educated guess, Stiles selected an antidote, prepped the syringe, and injected him. Throwing the case on the back seat, he went to start the car—and realized the keys weren't there. "Oh, my God. Couldn't you at least leave the keys in if you weren't going to leave it running like a smart wolf?" Great, now he had to go pocket spelunking. "I hate you," he said. The keys were not, unfortunately, in Derek's jacket because that would be too easy, obviously. After a bit of fumbling, he finally dug the damn things out of the right-hand pocket of Derek's jeans, heart seizing when Derek twitched and growled at him.

 

Starting the car just as the weirdo climbed out of his Mustang, Stiles took off down the street. He didn't relax his grip on the wheel until they were halfway to Derek's place and there was no sign of a Mustang behind him.

 

Digging his phone out of his pocket, he punched the speed dial for Scott. "Hey, you answered. Miracle. Where are you?"

 

"Just leaving the preserve. We found where the mermaid has been living."

 

"Yeah, well, you lose," Stiles replied. "I found the mermaid and the secret boss. Meet me at Derek's. Oh, and pick up my Jeep! It's two blocks behind the kiddie ice cream parlor." He hung up before Scott could reply and shoved his phone back in his jacket. Glancing in the rearview mirror at the mermaid, he asked, "Are you okay?" She bobbed a hasty nod, then smiled hesitantly at him. Stiles smiled back, even if she couldn't see it.

 

Derek woke up just as Stiles stopped the car, eyes glowing faintly for a minute as they opened, face the very picture of wounded puppy. It was always disconcerting when he looked like that. Then he woke completely and turned into an angry puppy, and the world went back to normal. "Damn it, Stiles."

 

"I didn't do anything! You can't yell at me if I didn't do anything. Oh, wait, I saved your ass. Try 'Thank you, Stiles' for once." He rolled his eyes when Derek said nothing. "You suck at dodging wolfsbane, by the way. I'm surprised you're not immune, as often as you get hit."

 

"Are you immune to being punched in the face?" Derek asked. "Give me my keys. What's going on?"

 

"Like we ever really know the answer to that question," Stiles muttered, and at Derek's impatient growl, pointed his thumb toward the back seat. "I found her not far from the place she last went on a biting frenzy. She was crying and really upset, man, but she can't talk. Did you know mermaids can't talk? It figures that would be the one thing the fairytales got right. Anyway, I was going to take her with me and meet back up with you when that guy showed up. No idea who or what he was, except really annoying."

 

Derek grunted. "He smelled like an alchemist."

 

Stiles laughed, but the sound was more tired than amused. "Like, 'turns lead into gold' type alchemist?"

 

"As in 'uses bits and pieces of supernatural creatures to gain more power and create bad things,'" Derek replied. "Things are only going to get worse now."

 

"Yeah, and I bet slamming him around and the pepper spray did not help. Awesome." He shoved Derek's keys into his hand, then climbed out of the car and helped the mermaid out. "Come on, I'll get you a bottle of water or something."

 

She curled her arm through his and smiled shyly, tucking back her hair as they walked across the warehouse practice yard over to the empty train cart. Stiles got her settled on a crate, then slipped inside to fetch a bottle of water from the cooler Derek kept there.

 

Opening it, he handed it off to her then glanced at Derek as he stalked toward them. "Scott and Isaac should be here soon, and then we can figure out what to do. I wish she could tell us what's happening."

 

Derek sneered at him, then began using sign language. Stiles rolled his eyes, because of course. Leaving them to it, he went to get his own bottle of water. By the time he came out, they seemed to be winding down.

 

"I think that's the longest conversation you've ever had," Stiles said. "Figures it doesn't involve you speaking a single word. How do you know sign language anyway?"

 

"Mermaids aren't the only supernatural beings that can't speak," Derek said shortly.

 

Stiles nodded. "What did she say?"

 

"That she's sorry about causing so much trouble; the alchemist wants something from her and poisoned her when she refused to give it to him. She was forced into a frenzy until a little before you found her. The alchemist would have gotten her again if not for us, so thank you."

 

"What does he want from you?" Stiles asked her.

 

The mermaid's hands moved with the sort of grace Stiles associated with musicians as she replied. Derek scowled in his pensive way as she finished. "A special pearl, carried by her since she is the next matron of her tribe."

 

"Matron is being like Alpha, I'm guessing?" Stiles asked. "Why would he want some mermaid's pearl? What does it do?"

 

"It's how they pass power from mother to daughter, but if I recall correctly their pearl only works for their specific line. The power is bound to the blood. To anyone else it's just a pearl."

 

Stiles sighed. "Yeah, but you said yourself he's an alchemist. I didn't know that was a profession."

 

Derek snorted. "You're the witch in training and you didn't think there was a variation on that theme? There's more than one kind of shapeshifter, why wouldn't there be more than one kind of witch?"

 

"It would kind of help if all you secretive, thick-headed idiots would share the information," Stiles snapped. "The 'only share after a crisis' methodology really sucks in case you hadn't noticed."

 

"Sharing information results in people like hunters," Derek growled right back.

 

Stiles knew that though Derek said 'hunters' what he really meant was 'Kate', and in Stiles' opinion, Matt probably fit that list, too. So he couldn't entirely blame Derek even if he vehemently disagreed. His stomach knotted as the unpleasant memories surfaced. Shoving them back down, he put his mind back to the task at hand, but before he could speak he heard the familiar sound of his Jeep. "It's about time," he muttered. "Where have you been?" he demanded when Scott climbed out and walked toward them.

 

"We went out to the forest to scope around, found she'd been living in that old cabin near the northeast waterfall. You remember it?"

 

"Yeah," Stiles replied, then swept an arm to indicate the mermaid. "She's being harassed by an alchemist because he wants her magic pearl. She'd still be biting people or captured if I hadn't found her. Dude, did you scratch my Jeep?"

 

Scott rolled his eyes. "No, I did not scratch your Jeep."

 

"It was scratched when we go there," Isaac said. He wrinkled his nose and looked at Derek. "Are you all right?"

 

Derek nodded. "We need to find the alchemist and stop him. Isaac, I want you to stay here and protect her. If he shows up here, don't attack him more than is necessary to get away and avoid it at all costs. He's got wolfsbane darts and there's no telling what else."

 

Isaac nodded and moved closer to the mermaid, speaking to her in sign language just as easily as Derek had. Stiles snorted, although he wasn't really surprised. "So how do you catch an alchemist? 'Cause if part one is 'piss him off', we can check that off and go straight to part two."

 

"Isn't that part one of everything?" Scott asked. "We may not have to hunt him down; the Argents are already doing it. They had some new guy with them."

 

Stiles went still. "What? How do you know that? Why didn't you mention this before? Where did you see them?"

 

"In the woods!" Scott said. "I was getting to that. We were poking around the cabin for clues when they drove by. Didn't pay attention to the cabin, they were clearly looking for something else. We followed them until they left the woods; that's when you called. It looked like they were heading back to the Argents' house. Kept talking about finding a rogue alchemist; sounds like some other hunters had him but he got away and they think he headed this way. They know he's looking for something, but they don't know what."

 

Derek's eyes flashed red briefly. "You didn't think to mention this sooner?"

"I was getting there!"

 

Stiles sighed. "You talked to her, didn't you?"

 

"No," Scott said, and it really didn't take being a werewolf to know he was lying. "I didn't talk to her, but she might have seen me."

 

"Scott!" Stiles reprimanded.  "We've got enough problems."

 

"I didn't do anything!" Scott said defensively. "We really were trying to learn more about the alchemist. Anyway, we've been more or less getting along with the hunters—"

 

"If here 'getting along with' means 'staying far away from,'" Stiles interrupted. "Do you remember when Jackson hated our guts? Eating on different sides of the lunchroom to avoid each other wasn't 'getting along with' him. It was 'staying the hell out of his way.' Out of sight, ideally out of mind."

 

"Yeah, and maybe if we'd paid more attention when we should have, instead of avoiding or ignoring him, fewer people would have died. We've avoided each other the past year and a half; maybe this is our chance to start changing that. I'm going to go talk to them."

 

Derek folded his arms across his chest. "It's a bad idea. Hunters all think that we're just ticking time bombs. A truce today is a weakness to exploit tomorrow. You know that."

 

"I know what everyone tells me, and I know everyone is against change," Scott replied. "But come on, Chris Argent sticks to the code—"

 

"Yeah, and Allison happily threw the code out the window. I'm with Derek—"

 

"Like usual," Scott sniped.

 

Stiles frowned. "What?"

 

"Seriously, every time we get caught up in yet another stupid fight like this, five minutes don't pass before you run off with Derek."

 

"I do not!" Stiles said, at the same time Derek growled. "Dude, I tried to call you to come help me out when I came across the mermaid victims at the police station. You were ignoring me. I went to the hospital alone. I ran into him there. That's not running off with Derek!"

 

"What about the pixies?"

 

Stiles bristled. "He ran into me. What about you? Every time I try to do anything with you it's 'Isaac this' or 'too sad about Allison' that. You wouldn't even tell me today that you were planning to go into the woods with Isaac."

 

"That wasn't my plan at first—"

 

"But you still couldn’t bother to call or text to tell me when it did become the plan. I had to run around alone until I ran into Derek, so excuse me for always winding up with someone reliable instead of my flaky friend who always has something better to do."

 

He bit back the rest of the words that wanted out, because in the end they wouldn't help. When exactly had 'find the alchemist' turned into a dramafest?

 

Scott looked at him like he was a puppy and Stiles had just taken a baseball bat to him.

 

"Could you two save the breakup for later?" Derek asked. "We have an alchemist to find."

 

Bristling, Scott said, "We'll find him faster if we go to talk to the people already trying to find him. The Argents helped us in the past—"

 

"Because they had no choice; don't forget how many of their people we killed, and how many of ours are dead," Derek retorted. "Fighting against one common enemy does not make us allies. That was a year and a half ago and nothing has happened since. Leave them alone."

 

Stiles nodded in agreement. "Stalemate means the hostilities are paused, not peace. Stop looking for excuses to get closer to Allison. You said you'd wait, so wait. She's focusing on learning, you should do the same. Maybe further down the road—"

 

"You sound like them," Scott said. "Wait, wait, and wait. At some point the waiting has to stop."

 

"Maybe you should stop and see just how blinded you get when her name enters a conversation," Derek said. "All of Deaton's lessons to make you into a good alpha someday won't do any good if you can't see past the Allison dazzle."

 

Scott looked ready to jump him. "At least I don't think the best way to deal with every problem is to kill it. You and the hunters are both really good at that."

 

For a moment, Stiles really thought Derek was going to kill him. He wasn't honestly sure if he'd stop him, though he reached out reflexively to grab Derek's arm, the leather warm and smooth beneath his fingers. Derek tensed beneath his hand and he promptly let go, shaking himself for doing it at all.

 

Then Derek sucked in air, let it out slowly, and said, "We don't have time to stand here arguing stupidly. We have work to do. Scott, see if you can find where the alchemist is holing up. He knows us; he doesn't know you." Pulling his keys out of his pocket, he turned away and headed for his car. "Come on, we'll go see what Deaton can tell us about stopping it."

 

Stiles followed after him, mentally going through all his books and files trying to recall if one of them might have some useful information. Deaton mostly had him studying history, methodology, and defensive magic, though, since there was enough of that to take years and it built a solid foundation. Offensive lessons wouldn't start until he finished high school, minus the odd thing learned by necessity in the middle of a fight.

 

Scott called his name, but Stiles ignored him, sliding into the Camaro and staring blankly at the scenery as Derek drove off. He had, Stiles decided, entered the Twilight Zone. There was no other way to explain how he had followed Derek without hesitation and blown off Scott and his kicked-puppy look.

 

"Why can't any nice paranormals come to visit? Are werewolves just magnets for everything hostile and scary? I wish a nice gentleman or lady paranormal would show up and buy me coffee or something. But nooo, it's just 'snarl this' and 'eat your face off that' and enough bullets I know the real reason the gun industry is thriving."

 

Derek made a noise, something rough and low and impossible to pin down, and when he said, "Shut up," the usual amounts of irritation were not present at all. If Derek were anyone else, Stiles would say he sounded amused. But Derek was never amused by anything he said, and Stiles never really expected him to be. It would upset the balance of the world or something.

 

Stiles shot him an irritated look, because there would be no unbalancing. He couldn't take anymore unbalancing. "So what do alchemists smell like that you knew him right off? I'm surprised he didn't try anything on me—but I suppose he didn't get the chance."

 

"They smell like a doctor's office but a lot worse," Derek said. "All the beings and creatures they kill and use for parts."

 

"Like Frankenstein making a monster or something?"

 

Derek glanced at him, the anger on his face smoothing out into one of those rare, normal expressions. "Yeah," he said. "Something like that. Laura killed one, once, after he killed a fairy for its liver."

 

"That's just gross," Stiles said. "I don't even want to know why. So how do you kill an alchemist?"

 

"Same way you kill anything."

 

"Overkill, you mean. I'm not cutting anything in half, but I've got my fire kit with me in the box."

 

Derek grunted and they rode the rest of the way to the animal clinic in silence. There were no lights on when they arrived, but that was hardly unusual.

 

The open door was, however. "Blood," Derek bit out, pulling Stiles back behind him before he prowled inside. Following him, Stiles saw marks on the doorframe and on the barrier inside—to cancel the power of the mountain ash. The alchemist really knew his stuff, then. That was unfortunate. "Damn, got the drop on Deaton," Stiles remarked. "That's … probably the most ominous thing to happen yet, seriously. No one ever gets the drop on Mr. Creep Calm Witch Doctor."

 

Derek said nothing, just shot him a warning look. Stiles fell silent and began to poke around the scattered mess of papers and broken furniture. The animals were all asleep, and it didn't take his odd knowledge base to know they'd been drugged with something—he could still smell it on the air, enough to make him a little dizzy. "We should get out of here before you have a fainting spell," he said.

 

"Shut up," Derek said. "If anyone is going to collapse this time, it's you. Here's where he took him, though it looks like Deaton put up a pretty good fight."

 

Stiles sneezed. "Ugh, let's get …" He trailed off as he saw a mark messily written on the ground, as though in haste. It could mean a few things, depending on context, but given the general nature of it, Stiles looked up. His mouth curved in a slow smile as he saw the book taped to the ceiling. "Hey, wolfie. Get that down for me."

 

Derek gave him a disgusted look, but obediently yanked the book down for him. Stripping away the tape and throwing it aside, Stiles opened the book and started to read.

 

"Read in the car," Derek commanded as he curled his fingers around the back of Stiles' neck. They were warm, calloused, a solid weight that should have been irritating but somehow wasn't for once. Derek stopped when they reached the car and slowly slid his fingers away. "Get inside," he said, and circled around to the driver's side.

 

Stiles obediently slid into the Camaro, fighting an urge to rub at the back of his neck where he swore he could still feel Derek's fingers. Settling into the passenger seat, silently ordering his heart to resume a normal rhythm, Stiles opened the book again and began to read what appeared to be an Intro to Alchemist Shenanigans book.

 

Throughout, Derek just sat waiting and watching, ever alert to their surroundings, but leaving Stiles alone to read. Stiles could not really think of anyone else who did that without playing twenty questions or something. It always slightly awed him how still and quiet Derek could be, how patient when necessary. He was far too used to the rest of them running around headless-chicken style.

 

He read as quickly as he could, through roughly fifty pages of what looked to be about a hundred and fifty page book. "Okay, from what I've learned so far alchemists are a lot like video games."

 

Derek gave him a withering look, and looked as though it caused him real pain to ask, "How is an alchemist like a video game?"

 

"They can level up," Stiles said. "Deaton, me, we just work on faith and imagination. If we really believe that clapping will bring fairies—technically pixies, but whatever—back to life, then it will. Well, to a point. Anyway, alchemists are way more cynical than that, apparently. You don't know any of this?"

 

"I know they steal pieces of other supernaturals to boost their own power and they're always looking for their next boost," Derek said.

 

"Yeah, basically," Stiles replied with a fleeting smile of approval. "Except when they get enough power, it permanently increases their base power level."

 

Derek pinched the bridge of his nose. "They level up."

 

Stiles grinned again. "Yeah, like I said. This says it can also affect longevity, so there's no telling how old or powerful that alchemist we pissed off really is. I think we're lucky we got away, though by luck I mean we're awesomely talented and badass and people should really stop messing with us."

 

"You're badass?" Derek asked.

 

"Don't be bitter just because I am equally as badass as you," Stiles said. "Do you need to be reminded that the life-saving score for this quarter is 7-6 and I won last quarter?"

 

"I won the two before that," Derek reminded him.

 

"And I will win two in a row and then we'll be totally even so like I said, we're both badass, don't be bitter about it, Mr. A. S. Wolf."

 

Derek's brow drew together in confusion, then abruptly cleared. "Shut the hell up, Stiles."

 

Stiles smirked and closed the book to pull out his phone. He texted Scott, then went back to the book. "While it does look like the old set-it-on-fire method will work just fine, we really were lucky to get away as we did. Surprise clearly was our best chance and we wasted it. On the other hand, that kind of killing people tends to make the hunters all scowly face so it's sort of for the best?" At Derek's irritated look, he shrugged in commiseration. "By this point he clearly knows we're on to him and that Deaton was useful to us—unless he had some other reason to take Deaton, but I don't know what that would be. How'd he even know about Deaton?"

 

"Hunters, maybe," Derek said. "I smelled traces of them, but I was more focused on Deaton and the alchemist. So what does he want the mermaid for?"

 

"Not sure yet, but—" He broke off as his phone chimed. "Scott says he's found where the guy is holing up. Confirms the alchemist has Deaton. Says to hurry up or he's going in without us."

 

Derek snarled and pulled out his own phone, and to judge by the force of his typing it was a very angry text he sent to Scott. When he was done, he hit another button and Stiles could just barely hear the receiving phone ringing.

 

He went back to reading while Derek explained the situation to Isaac, thumbing through handwritten, spidery words that listed what was known about alchemical components. As he turned another page, the word mermaid jumped out at him. "Derek," he said quietly, and Derek stopped mid-sentence, lowering the phone to look at him. "This says something about an immortality spell. It requires that pearl the mermaid mentioned, her heart, and …"

 

"And what?" Derek snapped.

 

"A natural born werewolf, whole and untainted," Stiles finished quietly.

 

Derek stared at him. "Me?"

 

"If he's doing this spell then yeah, you," Stiles said. "You should—"

 

"If you tell me I should sit this one out, I'll punch you, Stiles. Do I look like—"

 

"You have sense? No. But come on, if we had just found out I was the one needed for this spell, or one of the others, you'd already be yelling at us to stay where it's safe and out of the way. You get glowy red eyes and you're a magical exception? You'd tell me to stay home so I think I get to tell you to stay home."

 

Derek snorted. "Yeah, because telling you to do anything ever has any effect. Once you start you don't stop until you want to, no matter how many people want to throttle you in the end."

 

"That's pretty rich coming from you, Mr. Tenacity," Stiles said. "Scott says he's in that old skeevy motel where the drug dealers hang out. Know it?"

 

Not bothering to reply, Derek put the car in gear and drove off.

 

"Hey, is my old backpack still in here?" Stiles asked. He didn't wait for an answer, undoing his seatbelt and fumbling around in the back seat until he found both his case of dubious , yet useful substances and the backpack that was the emergency kit he'd learned to keep in Derek's car. He shoved the case into the bag and then settled it at his feet under the passenger seat. Picking up his discarded book, Stiles resumed reading; by the time they pulled to a stop about a block from where Scott was waiting for them, he was nearly done with it. "Seriously, be careful he doesn't get you in some wolfsbane net or something, because if he gets you this is all going to get a lot more annoying. He must be pissed that not only did we kick his ass, but he stumbled across you and you got away from him. If you do get caught and I have to save you again then I'm counting it as a double due to difficulty and 'I told you so' and the score will then be nine to six."

 

Derek shot him a look, then turned the car off and climbed out. Stiles followed suit, shrugging on his book bag and silently hoping that the night was not about to go from a two to a ten on the suck scale.

 

Across the street, a long strip of lanky shadow peeled away from the wall and walked over to them. "The mermaid is safe," Isaac said quietly. "I took her—"

 

"Don't tell us," Derek cut in. "The fewer who know, the better, so I don't have to lie when I say I don't know. Let's find Scott."

 

Though Stiles didn't really like the implication of those words, he let it go for the moment and just started calling up potentially-useful spells in the back of his mind. "Scott says he's behind the building, beside some dumpsters," Stiles said, then stuffed his phone back in his pocket. He slipped the small blue book into his back pocket and zipped up his ratty red hoodie, grateful that, for once, it wasn't raining. Derek led the way, Isaac falling back to cover the rear, leaving Stiles between them. He kept alert, but the wolves would spot trouble long before he did.

 

Something on the air smelled, but he couldn't peg it for the life of him. He started to ask, then thought better of it. He was sort of surprised when they reached Scott without incident, having expected something toothy or explosive or poisonous to come at them. He really didn't like quiet enemies, they reminded him way too much of Matt—right there in front of them but totally invisible until too damn late.

 

"Hey," Scott greeted. "He's in number twelve, and the apartments around him are empty. Most of this complex is, in fact. I think it might actually be marked like a hazard or something. What's that word?"

 

"Condemned?" Stiles guessed, not bothering to look up as he said it, too busy rifling through his supplies until he found what he wanted. Shoving the packet in his pocket, he finally glanced at Scott.

 

Scott smiled. "Yeah, condemned. So what should we do?"

 

"How is Deaton?" Stiles inquired. "Is he okay? Can you hear him at all?"

 

It was Derek who replied, "Sounds like he's unconscious but okay. I don't hear anyone else in there with him."

 

"Do you suppose that's good news or bad news?" Stiles asked.

 

Derek's sour expression said he wasn't entirely certain; Scott and Isaac just waited for a plan to start forming.

 

"So Derek should definitely not go in first, because the alchemist needs him for the cauldron," Stiles said, ignoring the feel of hostile eyes on him. "Scott, you knock on the door, get a look around if you can. He doesn't know you're one of us and it might take him a few to figure it out. If we know where exactly Deaton is then we can plan how to bust in next. A motel room isn't really a whole lot of space for fighting so we should avoid it even if the Werewolf School of Problem Solving is 'attempt to murder, then ask questions.' Isaac, go with him, but hang back in case the alchemist tries something. We'll be ready to help the minute you call us. He's got wolfsbane darts and probably some other tricks, so be careful. The place is probably booby trapped."

 

Isaac nodded, filing away everything Stiles said, then looked at Derek for approval.

 

Derek was too busy trying to decide how to kill Stiles to notice. "That's your plan? Send them in while we sit here doing nothing? Are you an idiot?"

 

"You're not going in there," Stiles declared. "He needs you and the mermaid to cast his spell and I'd be willing to bet that if he has you he'll run and find another suitable mermaid somewhere else. Finding a mermaid has got to be easier than finding another one of you."

 

"I'm not sitting here while everyone else goes into danger," Derek said, eyes glowing, a definite threat in his growl. He shifted as though to rise and Stiles covered his face with his hand and shoved him right back down.

 

"You'll cause more danger for everyone if you get caught," he hissed.

 

"I won't get caught!" Derek snarled.

 

Stiles snorted at that. "Oh, yeah, 'cause your track record at that is so great. How about the hunters way back when we first crossed paths, hmm? The kanima put you out of commission twice, thanks for that waterlogged memory. Shall we get started on the wolfsba—" Stiles yelped as Derek yanked him so close their faces were practically touching.

 

"Shut. Up," Derek growled low, the kind of sound that vibrated in Stiles' chest and zinged down his spine, stopped his breath so short for a moment he didn't realize he wasn't breathing.

 

He drew a sharp, ragged breath and braced his hands on Derek's shoulders. "Let me go, wolf. Stop being so damned stubborn and stay here for once. It makes no sense …" He trailed off as he realized Derek had stopped listening to him. He turned his own head as best he could without hitting Derek and realized the problem.

 

Scott and Isaac were gone.

 

"Damn it," Derek snarled. "This is your fault."

 

"Oh, yeah, my fault," Stiles said. "Because I'm the stubborn werewolf who won't unbend and listen when someone is trying to save his stupid life."

 

Derek jabbed a finger into his chest. "You're one to talk, human."

 

"Stop making that sound like a dirty word," Stiles said, struggling a bit because when Derek was on a tear he forgot he walked a lot faster, the jerk. They stopped at the end of the row of motel rooms, watching where Scott stood knocking on a door. Isaac hung several paces back, well in the shadows where most would not easily be able to see him.

 

Stiles moved to stand beside Derek, mentally calling up any spell he knew that might be useful, gripping Derek's sleeve to do what he could to slow the dumbass down because it was a sure bet that if he went there'd be no way to catch him. It was what Stiles would do if he was a scheming, smirking alchemist up to no good. "Don't do something stupid," he hissed.

 

"Take your own advice," Derek muttered back.

 

"Idiot."

 

"Human."

 

Stiles rolled his eyes. "You're—"

 

He broke off as Scott abruptly screamed and vanished. Stiles moved, surging in front of an angry Derek, tripping him up—tripping them both up but not before he got the packet of wood ash fairy dust from his pocket. Tipping it into his palm, he threw it over Derek, willing it to hold him still.

 

"I'm going to murder you," Derek hissed.

 

Stiles blew him a kiss just to piss him off, because why not at that point—lion/lamb, penny/pound. "This totally makes it seven and a half to six." He ran off, feeling Derek's eyes the entire way, and stumbled to a stop in the open doorway of the alchemist's motel room.

 

Scott was out cold on the floor, Deaton on one of the beds, and Isaac seemed to be rather tidily beating the shit out of the alchemist. Pulling his backpack off, Stiles darted over to Scott. A quick examination showed wolfsbane poisoning, of course—he was going to buy them all Kevlar bodysuits for Christmas or something. Yanking out his case, he quickly administered the antidote—just as Isaac came slamming into them.

 

Ow, that hurt. Stiles grunted, swore loudly as he was yanked out of the pile and hauled to his feet. The alchemist drew him close and then Stiles felt warm metal pressed to his throat, felt the slightest sting followed by the warm trickle of blood.

 

Well, hell.

 

Isaac didn't move, passed out from a rather alarming-looking wound to his head. Scott was scrabbling to take care of him, the alchemist momentarily forgotten as he fretted over a wounded friend. Stiles saw the moment Scott realized there was someone missing. "Let him go!" Scott roared.

 

"I suggest you stand down," the alchemist said. "Because after that first hit of wolfsbane your body won't take well to a second so soon. As young as you are, and turned at that, you'd handle it very poorly."

 

Scott growled again, but didn't move.

 

"Where's the alpha?" the alchemist demanded. "Bring him to me or his little human bitch here will die."

 

Stiles took umbrage at being labeled anyone's bitch, least of all Derek's—who was in the lead, who?—but the knife reminded him that talking was an especially poor choice at the moment.

 

"Bring me the alpha and the mermaid or I'll start killing everyone here," the alchemist said, pressing the blade more firmly against Stiles' throat, drawing more blood.

 

At that, Stiles had to run his mouth, blade or no blade. "This Derek Hale we're talking about. Have you ever tried getting him to go somewhere or do anything he didn't want to do? You'd have more luck, I don't know, shifting a mountain or making the lacrosse team take up basketball instead."

 

"Shut up," the alchemist hissed. "If he wants you and the others alive, he'll get the alpha. If you want to live, you'll shut up."

 

Scott burst out laughing, making Stiles stare. Scott did a lot of crazy things in the middle of awkward and/or violent situation, but laughing like that had not, until then, been one of those things. "No one gets him to shut up, except maybe Derek. They're like that old saying—what happens if an unmovable object meets an unstoppable force."

 

"Technically the phrase is—" Stiles stopped as the alchemist expressed his displeasure by way of sharp object.

 

"You will get me the alpha and you will do it now."

 

"Okay, you can have him if you want," Scott said.

 

A deafening roar drowned out the last bit of his sentence as Derek burst into the room and lunged for them—

 

And brilliant, blinding light flashed and the taste of magic was like sulfur and metal on Stiles' tongue. He heard Derek make a low, pained sound, heard Scott scream though he sounded more surprised than anything.

 

When the light faded, Stiles was roughly thrown aside, head slamming into the nightstand between the beds. "Ugh," he muttered, and twisted and fumbled until he could sit up. He pressed one hand to his neck, grimacing at the sticky feel of blood, but the cuts were only barely more than nicks and had touched nothing major.

 

He watched as Scott started grappling with the alchemist again, looking around for something he could do. His bag was near Isaac, but it had nothing useful in it. Spells at that point would do more harm than good since he didn't know what the hell the alchemist had used to basically turn the entire room into a cage to hold Derek.

 

Derek's pale face was just visible past the edge of the bed, twisted in a grimace of pain. His eyes opened briefly, then slid shut again. Anger flared up in Stiles and he renewed his efforts to find some way to stop the asshole alchemist.

 

He winced as Scott went through the window, but held still until he came back through it to keep the alchemist distracted. Skipping his eyes around the room, he considered and discarded several—

 

Aha. The dart gun had been lost among the rubble. Stiles heaved himself up and flung himself over the bottom corner of the bed where Deaton slept, blissfully unaware (which was not fair, Stiles would never let him live that down). He hit the floor at a truly awful angle, he was going to have bruises everywhere in the morning, but he was able to crawl the last bit to the dart gun. It was helpfully already loaded, and while he hoped that the dosage was not enough to kill a human the fact that it might be wouldn't stop him from pulling the trigger.

 

Lifting it, he bellowed, "Police!" True to form, they all reflexively froze for a split second. It was all the time Stiles needed to fire off a dart. Only seconds after it struck the alchemist's bare arm did it begin to affect him. Aconite might be double plus nasty for werewolves, but it still wasn't nice for humans.

 

Scott used the alchemist's disorientation to knock him out cold. Climbing to his feet, Stiles stepped closer to the bed where Deaton lay and broke the wards around him. He half-considered waking Deaton up, but from the look of it, Stiles wasn't the only one who was going to have a nasty headache in the morning.

 

Ugh, he already had the mother of all headaches. Just how hard had that stupid nightstand hit him? Stiles grimaced and left Deaton, turning his attention to the room as a whole, muttering under his breath.

 

The walls were covered with markings that hadn't been visible before the spell activated, which was totally cheating. He'd have to look up invisible magic ink in his books because he was all about cheating when it came to the supernatural.

 

He pondered how to break it a minute more, then decided that for raw power it was hard to beat oak. That would have to do. Walking across the wreck of a room to his bag, he glanced briefly at Scott who was still looking over Isaac. "He okay?"

 

"Yeah, he'll be fine. Just needs to shake it off still. Can you free Derek?"

 

Stiles nodded. "Did you bring my Jeep?" When Scott nodded, he said, "Get Deaton in the Jeep, then, and we can take him home. Derek and Isaac can obviously ride home together."

 

"Okay," Scott said

 

Stiles left him to it and finally dug out his cache of fairy dust and tipped out a suitable amount of oak. Cupping it in both hands, he moved to the center of the room, and then waited until Scott had gotten Deaton, Isaac, and himself well out of harm's way. Closing his eyes, Stiles willed the fairy dust to do what he wanted—break the cage and free Derek.

 

When he was confident the dust was charged, he blew it out across the room, silently chanting for it to take.

 

He yelped when there was another flash of light, and groaned as his headache doubled in agony, sinking to his knees and cupping his hands over it.

 

"You're an idiot," came Derek's gruff voice, and then his hand wrapped around Stiles' arm and hauled him to his feet. "Stop doing stupid things," Derek added, glaring at him.

 

Stiles glared back. "You first."

 

They continued the staring match for several minutes, before Derek finally growled again and said, "I can't believe you fairy-dusted me."

"I can't believe you got out of it," Stiles said gloomily. "This is going to up my hours of training and further reduce my free time, so thanks for that."

 

Derek said nothing, just rolled his eyes—then pressed a handkerchief to Stiles' bleeding neck, holding it there firmly. "I smelled blood, which I don't like to smell, and your spell wasn't very strong."

 

"Ah," Stiles said, not really sure what to say to that, for once. He reached up to take over holding the cloth himself and scowled in confused irritation when Derek's hand didn't budge. He glared, but Derek wasn't looking at him, instead taking in the room and the unconscious alchemist.

 

Stiles absently thought that he should probably go check on the stupid alchemist, but he was having trouble looking away from Derek's stupid, scruffy face. Scott's words from minutes ago and earlier in the day played over in his head.

 

And he realized Scott was right. Well, sort of. Stiles never went looking for Derek, but they did seem to wind up working together an awful lot anyway—more and more every time a problem cropped up, it seemed. They even had that stupid point game. Ugh. Stiles wondered just how oblivious it was possible for one person to be, then remembered Scott and realized with a sinking sensation that it was possible for one person to be very oblivious. Even when that person was brilliant, smart, and highly-talented him and the thing about which he was apparently oblivious was his massive crush on Derek. Oh, God, he'd been pulling Derek's pigtails. Wolftails. Wolf tail.

 

Derek finally looked at him again, frowning faintly, and Stiles jumped, jerking back and upsetting his balance. Derek caught him and pulled him close again. "If you manage to kill yourself after all this, I'm going to laugh."

 

"Probably at my funeral," Stiles muttered. "I'm fine, you can let go. I'm not going to bleed to death from scratches."

 

Still frowning—and oh God was that actual concern on his face?—, Derek slowly withdrew his fingers. Like earlier, Stiles swore he could still feel them anyway. Derek kept staring and Stiles couldn't quite figure out how to stop staring back.

 

Finally, Derek said gruffly, "I think that makes the score seven and a half to eight."

 

"No way," Stiles argued, definitely not smiling a little bit and even if he was, it was all the concussion's fault 'cause a concussion was the only logical explanation. "You don't get two points."

 

"For difficulty and 'I told you so,'" Derek retorted.

 

Stiles opened his mouth, then closed it again. "Yeah, well, you got trapped exactly like I said you would, and then I had to save you after all so the score is nine and a half to eight, so there."

 

Derek huffed, but didn't argue. They lapsed back into another round of staring. Derek had nice eyes, but they weren't particularly fathomless or anything. Mostly they seemed tired and cranky. Stiles had a sudden urge to pat him on the head, or pet him, or … something he wasn't sure he was ready to think about.

 

He didn't jump when Derek's thumb brushed a bit of dust or something off his cheek and lingered. He looked confused, like somebody trying to recall something and it was right at the tip of their tongue. Stiles' breath hitched as Derek's fingers curled around the back of his neck—

"Hey!" Scott said, making them both jump. "What are you doing? Come on. The Argents will be here any minute and Allison said to make sure we're gone!"

 

"You called her?" Derek snapped, eyes flashing red—but it didn't take knowing him to realize the anger was mostly misplaced.

 

Stiles just wished suddenly he knew the finer points of why Derek was angry. The interruption, or about what had almost happened? Stiles told his heart to stop racing, because, really, it did that entirely too often lately. "Why did you call Allison?"

 

"Because they can clean up this mess, and I wanted them to know what really happened with the alchemist. I'm not trying to call for peace talks or anything, but … baby steps, okay?"

 

Derek blew out an irritated breath. "Whatever. It's time to go home." He stomped out of the motel room, and a couple of minutes later they saw the Camaro drive off.

 

"Ugh," Stiles said, not even really sure why. All of it. "What time is it?"

 

"You don't want to know," Scott said. "Come on, I'll drive you home."

 

Stiles made a face. "Stupid werewolves and their stupid healing powers." He retrieved his bag and shuffled out of the remains of the motel room behind Scott, absently grateful it had all happened in an area where nobody was going to ask questions about anything. The very last thing he needed was his dad showing up, ugh.

 

He dozed off on the ride home, and whimpered in protest when Scott shook him awake. "What?" he asked. "Oh. Thanks. You going to be okay?"

 

"Yeah, I'll be fine," Scott said, smiling in that gentle way of his. "Look—I'm sorry about earlier. I shouldn't let jealousy get the better of me."

 

Stiles yawned. "Jealousy? Over what?"

 

"You and Derek. Every time something happens now, you run off with him."

 

"You always run off with Isaac first," Stiles said, really wishing the entire conversation could wait until his head was not trying to explode. "He and Allison are all you talk about unless I somehow manage to change that."

 

Scott rolled his eyes. "And you spend most of your time talking about Derek."

 

"I do not."

 

"Yeah, you do."

 

"Ugh." Stiles let his head thunk against the door, immediately regretting it.

 

Scott sounded entirely too amused as he said, "Also, I saw you in the motel room. Don't try to tell me there's nothing going on."

 

"There's nothing going on," Stiles said nonetheless. "We argue. We save the day. We argue some more. End of story. He's irritating and stubborn and smug and irritating. Double irritating, so there."

 

"Uh-huh," Scott said, grinning. "You do remember how much we hated him a year and a half ago, right?"

 

Stiles sighed. "I remember a lot of things from back then."

 

"I wasn't just taunting that alchemist until Derek finally got there, you know. I meant it when I said you two have always been unmovable meets unstoppable."

 

Stiles started to correct him that the phrase was actually 'what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object' and then decided it didn't matter. "I think that whole question boils down to the two things not being possible."

 

"Werewolves," Scott pointed out.

 

"It's four-thirty in the morning, stop being smart; that's not allowed," Stiles said crankily, and opened his door to stumble out.

 

Scott looked at him in concern. "Are you sure you'll be okay? Should I stay? You took a really hard crack to the head."

 

"What are you going to do? Watch me sleep? It's just a headache, and even if it was a concussion, sleep is the best medicine. Go away so I can do that. And shut up about Derek."

 

Laughing, Scott climbed out of the Jeep, gave him his keys and then loped off toward home.

 

Stiles went inside, up the stairs, stripped down and faceplanted on his bed.

 

When he woke in the morning, it was to a text from Scott that the mermaid's victims were feeling better and would probably be released soon. Downstairs, there was a note from his dad saying he'd had to go back in and would see him later. Stiles grunted and debated between making coffee and going back to bed. He compromised with a shower and felt human enough by the end to decide going out for breakfast was a better idea.

 

When he stepped out onto the porch, however, the first thing he saw was a black Camaro waiting at the curb. Everything he'd been carefully not thinking about came rushing back and Stiles swallowed. Locking the front door, he then shoved his keys into his pocket and walked across the yard to the waiting car.

 

Taking a deep breath, he slid into the passenger seat. Derek's car was at least as familiar as his own anymore; Stiles couldn't remember when getting into it had started feeling normal. "What are you doing here?" he asked.

 

"Finishing a conversation," Derek said, and reached out to grip his t-shirt with his thumb and two fingers, tugging lightly. Stiles knew when it was his move, and closed the rest of the distance himself. Derek's mouth was warm, the kiss surprisingly gentle for a man so rough around the edges. He tasted like coffee and a hint of something that reminded Stiles of magic, but darker, sharper.

 

The weirdest part was that it didn't really feel weird at all. Eventually they drew back and Stiles found himself once more in a staring contest with Derek. That tipped into a second that provoked him into sliding fingers through Derek's hair, and a third that showed a hint of the more familiar rough edges, making Stiles shiver.

 

Finally, Derek shoved him away.

 

"I don't think that's actually a conversation," Stiles said, "but please spare me a conversation. So what do we do now?"

 

Derek made that noise from before, and Stiles suddenly realized that he was trying not to laugh. "I have to take the mermaid home; she's waiting at Scott's house. It's a few hours to the coast, a few hours back. Scott said he'd cover for you."

 

Stiles relaxed back in his seat, thrumming with energy, his grin holding nothing back. "Okay, but we have to stop for coffee first."