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Cross My Soul

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Sometime around mid summer, during the intervening weeks of baseball camp and recovering from baseball camp and the latest Minecraft update, Jinx hops up the plastic step stool to their bed and says, “Derek’s daemon won’t talk to me.”

Stiles hadn’t thought that was something they were worrying about, so he says, “Okay?” and then tabs out by accident trying to quit. “Ah, crap.”

“I don’t even know her name,” she continues over him. She pounces on his pillow and starts kneading the pillowcase with her fuzzy paws.

“Don’t rip it,” Stiles says.

“Yes, okay,” Jinx says impatiently, and does it some more.

Stiles rolls his eyes. “Not really seeing a downside to this,” he says, getting back on topic.

“It’s rude,” she says. “We saved their lives. She could say hi or something. I dunno—use swear words.”

“I’m not arguing,” he says; he knows better. “But the, hmm. Cost-benefit doesn’t seem very,” he waves at the window, “Beneficial.”

“We could make a spread sheet,” she says, clapping her paws together.

The last time he’d been near Derek’s daemon she’d been standing guard over Derek’s heavy, limp body, her muzzle frothy, her eyes big and black and scary—mindless. At the time, Derek had a fist-thick branch sticking out of his lung like it was growing there, and she wouldn’t let anyone close enough to take it out; did it herself, in fact, when everyone was far enough away; tugged it out with her teeth. It had to have hurt her. Stiles still isn’t sure if she would have bit him, but the way she’d snarled at him when he tried had seemed real enough.

Stiles reminds Jinx of this, but all she says is, “I feel like I need to help her gain a sense of humor.” She’s stopped tugging at the pillowcase at any rate.

“That would be bad,” Stiles hedges, “I’m pretty sure. ”

“Maybe Derek doesn’t let her talk because she’s funny and nobody would take his corner dwelling seriously anymore.”

That is very likely. “She’s probably a dork,” he agrees, snorting.

“I think I need to hear her tell a joke,” Jinx says, ruffling her whiskers. She nods, decided. “Can you imagine? ‘Knock, knock. Who’s there? Wolf. Wolf who? Me, I’m a wolf, open the door.’”

Stiles just looks at her.

“That may’ve gotten away from me,” she admits airily, and then huffs. “It’s the principle of it.”

Jinx gives up worrying about it after a while, but she needles at the point for long enough to make Stiles curious. When he thinks about, he realizes he hasn’t actually heard Derek’s daemon talk to anyone. Not to any daemons, or Scott or Stiles or the betas in a pinch. She hates Peter in an obvious, uncomplicated kind of way, and doesn’t talk to him either.

It’s not exactly uncommon. Daemons don’t talk to humans, usually, unless they’re close. And lots of religious people don’t let their daemons talk to anyone at all. Derek doesn’t strike him as particularly devout though, and Stiles has seen him talk to other daemons when he needs to—Boyd’s and Erica’s, Hyacinth when Scott was relapsing, telling her, get in the way, block him off, he won’t hurt you, you’re the only one who’s safe, and Jinx once, to tell her to shut up.

His daemon could be shy but—no, that’s wrong, Stiles knows it. Aloof maybe, a better than you attitude, clear as day. But Stiles remembers clearly enough how Peter’s had cackled and taunted, said horrible things Jinx won’t tell him about; and really, there just isn’t enough evidence.

--

North Americans have a small to large spectrum of daemon sizes, bigger as you get out of cities and into sprawling rural townships. It has something to do with cloistered population densities; having room to grow. Typical daemon size in India is a cubic foot, small dogs most of the time; China is the same, Japan, smaller. They balloon out in Russian, where daemons are built for the winters, but shrink into Western Europe and places like Uganda, the Philippines, a lot of islands. Tropical places have more birds, hot places more reptiles, violent places more predators. It’s really all voluntary consensus statistics, so not very reliable, stereotypes for the most part. Daemon research is controversial and difficult and often wrong anyway, so Stiles doesn’t really care about it.

But he is thinking about that at Wendy’s the next day in the cozy back corner of the restaurant, in one of the bigger booths with extra floor space set aside for larger daemons that’s not crowded by chairs, watching Scott feed Hyacinth fries out of his open palmed hand, heavy with salt, her huge sturdy body blocking him in, the difference between her and Jinx having grown up in the same town.

He thinks of Scott’s dad and wonders how much of it is nurture, and then asks around the straw of his frosty, “Has Derek’s daemon ever talked to Cinth?”

Scott thinks about it. “No,” he says at last. He doesn’t sound all that concerned. “Why? Has she said anything to Jinx?”

Stiles shakes his head no and presses his tongue to the roof of his mouth. “I just think it’s weird. Don’t you think that’s weird?”

“Not really,” Scott says, shrugs a little. Cinth nods her big head in agreement. “He’s kind of an asshole. I don’t really care what his daemon has to say.”

“Well, yeah,” Stiles says. Scott’s bedrock state is loyalty, to his bosom friends, his mom—a sturdy moral center. It makes him reliable, but not all that curious; Cinth isn’t either, come to think of it. “She hasn’t insulted anyone or tried to eat us,” Stiles points out. “It’s a character deviancy.”

“I don’t like thinking about Derek,” Scott says with another shrug, and takes a sip if his soda.

“Really?” Stiles says. He can’t say he does it a lot either, but it’s a little like thinking about sasquatch; kind of futile, but an entertaining way to waste time.

“He makes us angry,” Cinth agrees, that kind of deep-quarry stillness that makes you forget how scary she can be. She hasn’t changed at all since Scott got bitter, which they’re all thankful for. Then she says, “Maybe she can’t.”

“Everyone’s daemon talks,” Stiles says and stabs his lunch with a fork.

Finstock sends them all long, sad emails about justice and teamwork to harass them all into a casual summer meet about a week later.

It’s the first time Stiles has played lacrosse since the end of the year game. His range has suffered. In April they’d been at a solid thirty-six feet; enough for defense or a winger if he’s careful and only pushes a little. It’s less now. At first he thinks it’s just his concentration, since his and Jinx’s bond snaps back like a misfired rubber band when he’s not thinking about it. But ten minutes into the scrimmage match, Stiles is hunched over his stomach, hugging the sidelines and Jinx is making panicky, chirping noises as she toddles after him trying to keep up.

Scott slides up to him, not winded and only sweating a little. “Need some help?”

“No,” Stiles says. Cinth sometimes lets Jinx ride on her back. She and Scott can be as far apart as the width of the field without effort. It wasn’t like that before Scott was bitten, so it’s probably a werewolf thing. He’s seen Derek do the same.

Back in middle school, before Stiles had the Jeep and the middle school was closer, Hyacinth would let Jinx ride along on the walk home. Stiles has a trailer now, and special permission to park in the delivery lane behind the school since Scott technically can’t ride the bus and they’re zoned too far to walk.

“You sure?” Scott asks.

“Yeah,” Stiles says. It’s already too late. Finstock’s dotty magpie started shrieking a couple minutes ago, jumping on the Gatorade coolers, and Finstock himself is looking right at them.

“Hey, you! With the hair—24 get off the field! Substitution, hey, are you listening?” he roars.

“Yeah, coach!” Stiles yells back, and trots off the field. A freshman gets sent in, jackrabbit daemon, fast as shit. It burns a bit.

Once Stiles is seated, Finstock says, hair extra wild from where he’s been pulling at it, squinting down at them both like their doing something wrong but he doesn’t know what, “Don’t they have training for that?” His magpie cocks her head.

“Coach?” Stiles says, voice carefully flat, and shoves the spout of his water bottle in his mouth. Jinx is curled around his ankles, rubbing his shins with her fur and kneading his shoelaces.

Before the Daemon Sport and Safety bill back in the seventies, daemons either had to be fast enough to run and dodge on the field, or fly, or be small enough to fit into the regulation metal impact canisters and hooked on factory standard belt snaps. There were a bunch of crazy drugs and surgeries back then, desperate athletes trying to eke out a couple extra yards. Mostly a lot of people died, so now all public schools and professional teams have cordoned off daemon tracks fencing the playing fields. They get hurt otherwise, or touched, or die by accident, when something small gets stepped on and crushed.

No one survives that.

“Some kind of program. I’m not talking any of that cutting stuff,” he corrects quickly. “If you want to be first line—“ he says, and then glances at the field and forgets about Stiles. “Greenberg! There’s an ‘i’ in I’ll rip your face off! Pass the goddamn ball!” and leaves him alone.

“Sorry,” Jinx says when he picks her up. She wiggles around until she’s lying on her back, cradled in the indent of his pushed together thighs. He rubs her soft, pudgy belly, and his whole body feels immediately better, like a soothed toothache. He never realizes just how much it hurts until it’s gone.

“Nah,” he says. “Not your fault.”

It’s hard to be far from her, after Gerard.

Jinx settled when Stiles was ten.

Very Early, his therapist said, the one he had to see after—after.

Her name was Katherine. She had a lemur daemon that tried to touch Jinx, pet her, establish trust, she told him kindly. Mostly all that he remembers is the chair he had to sit in had been scratchy and old and rubbed his arms raw whenever he wore t-shirts, some kind of rough, checked twill, and that he never wanted to go back.

Wikipedia says it’s not—bad, to settle young. Happens a lot with trauma or grief or loss, is an indicator for police investigations. The youngest recorded settling he could find was a kid—six in 1988 with an enormous maned lion. It’s a—sign, to watch out for, and anyway, his mom had settled at twelve, and Stiles had almost been eleven. That wasn’t much of a difference in the end.

Hers had been a sea otter too. He used to swim in the inflatable pool with Stiles as a kid, when Jinx could be a goldfish. He had a rock for the clams and nuts she’d give him. Stiles had painted it blue and yellow and pink for mother’s day and he’d kept it even after all his fur had fallen out.

By the end of it, he’d been skinny and wrinkly and the webbing between his toes had cracked, and he’d whispered, too quiet, at the walls, at the things no one else could hear. When she’d died he’d fallen apart like a popped water balloon in slow motion and dripped glowing gold off the gurney in between the rungs of the side-rails, collecting into puddles and then disappearing, and Stiles had thought once, briefly, stupidly, that he’d touch him, hold him, make him feel safe—

“I’ll just be a sec,” Scott says, as he and Cinth take off to go see Melissa, paper bag lunch swinging in his hand. It’s funny to watch them navigate the foot traffic. Bears are rare, so it frightens people sometimes before they realize.

“You bet,” Stiles says, and goes and sits in the waiting room.

It’s Wednesday and mostly empty save for a twenty-something mom and a snotty, miserable looking five year old wrapped up in a tartan blanket, looking a little shocky. The mom is weeping quietly and holding herself like she’ll rip at the seams if she doesn’t. She keeps looking at the ICU doors every few minutes, and doesn’t seem to notice or care that Stiles is there and staring at her.

She has a rabbit daemon huddled between her thigh and the arm of the chair, but the kid is too young to have hers settled, and it flits from bird to cat to frog to mouse every few seconds, and then settles on a chimp to wrap his arms around her neck.

Stiles doesn’t think much of it until two police officers get there and lead them both away, hunched in that obvious way that people do when they don’t want anyone to eavesdrop, their German shepherd daemons trailing along behind them. It’s none of his business, obviously, but then a couple doctors melt out of ICU and look scared. They’re trying to hold it back out of sympathy but aren’t doing a great job.

“Check it out?” Jinx says once they’re gone. She hops down from the chair and waddles away without waiting, her long thick tail dragging behind her. She should have been a cat, with how nosy she is.

They wait until the nurse at the front desk isn’t watching, and then slip through into ICU. It’s quiet and mostly empty from what he can see, lines of neatly made beds lining the walls, one or two patients sleeping or unconscious, hooked up to ventilators and quietly beeping monitors. The officers and doctors and the woman and child are huddled around the door to a private suite at the end of the hall. Stiles and Jinx sneak into one of the offshoot wards and creep past the privacy curtains until they can kinda sorta see what’s happening.

“I’m afraid there’s nothing we can do ma’am,” says one of the doctors, with that soft sort of patience that means someone’s about to die.

“There must be something,” the mom says, voice hoarse from crying, hiccupping at the end of it. “He’s—he’s—what about my daughter?” Her daemon is huddled up in a shivering mess at her feet and her kid has started to silently cry, whispering, “Daddy? Daddy?”

“Not right now, baby,” the mom says, and makes a vague abortive gesture through the air, cups the back of her little brown head. She tries a few more times to speak before managing a croak, “How much time—?”

“How about we go inside,” says the second doctor, petting the parrot daemon on her arm with an anxious kind of repetition. “In all honesty it’s amazing how long he’s managed to hang on. He must want to see you very badly. Let’s go on in and we’ll talk about your options in a little bit.”

“She shouldn’t—hear this,” the mom says, quiet, shaking.

“No,” the second doctor agrees, and leads them both into the room.

One of the officers leaves, and the other takes the first doctor aside and they have a quiet argument that Stiles can’t hear until the doctor says, loud and frustrated, “What do you want me to say, Pete? You’ve seen how bad the damage is,” he looks around and huffs out through his nose. “We barely know anything about regular intercision. This is—mutilation,” he stands up straighter and tugs at the lapels of his lab coat, disturbing the tiny bat hanging there. “Anyway, there’s no use getting mad at me over it.”

“This is the forth one,” Pete says. He’s one of the new recruits, Stiles realizes, placing his face. Got picked up after the thing with Matt. Stiles has only ever met him in a peripheral kind of way when bringing Dad lunch, judging his suede, non-regulation shoes.

“That’s not anything I can control,” the doctor says, “You’re blaming the symptom.”

“We can’t keep this under wraps. Someone’s going to find out,” Pete says, his daemon is getting agitated, stalking up and down the hall. “Taj, holy shit. Everyone’s going to panic. ”

Taj just puts a hand on his shoulder and steers him back towards the general ward. Stiles takes that as a sign to head back but Jinx doesn’t.

She sneaks out into the hall. “Jinx—” he starts.

“Gimme a sec,” Jinx says, creeping up to the private suite to the door. A few seconds later, in a bit of a panic, she squeaks, “Stiles,” in a voice that means she’s scared. Stiles checks the empty hallway and then crawls to join her.

He has enough time to see the mom, the kid, both crying, the doctor standing to the side, arms folded tight around a blue clipboard, her back to Stiles, and the dad, he guesses, on the hospital bed, or what’s left of him, at least. He looks like a huge mosquito went and sucked up all his blood, left behind the body like a water bottle drank dry, the cap stuck back on before any air can replace the volume. He has a feeding tube, but Stiles doesn’t think it’ll make a difference—

Then a huge mastiff comes out of nowhere picks Jinx up in her big slobbery mouth, and Stiles’ dad clamps a hand on the back of his neck and yanks him out of the ward, with a casual glance over his shoulder to make sure they weren’t seen. Once they’re back in the waiting room, Stiles is dragged back behind the big plastic ficus in the corner so he’s hidden from a couple suspicious lab techs over by the vending machines.

“What the hell, Stiles?” he hisses. “—I can’t believe you right now.”

“That guy didn’t have a daemon,” Stiles whispers back, choking a little, realizing why the picture had looked so wrong. He scoops down to haul Jinx into his arms, out of Ophalia’s mouth, and worms his fingers into her thick, thick fur. “He didn’t—this has happened four times? Oh my god!”

“Jesus Christ,” Dad says, and paws at his face. “I am this close to getting you a nanny.”

Stiles’ mouth works for a second, and then he says, “I think you’re saying things in the heat of the moment that you’ll regret later—but it’s okay. I’ll ignore it.”

“That’s—big. Of you,” Dad says and then sighs. He has a lot more grey than last year. In their less guilty moments, Jinx calls it a distinguished parental gradient. “What are you doing here anyway? I thought you were vegetating at home. That’s how I left you.”

“I drove Scott here,” Stiles says. He swallows down a mouthful of watery, cold spit and hopes he isn’t going to barf. “His mom forgot her lunch. He wanted to bring it.”

Dad sighs, and crosses his arms so the light hits his badge on the outer curve, where the placard smoothes out into the shiny field of gold that pokes out into the tines. The reflection shines in Stiles’ eyes. He says, “Here’s the deal—you take Scott home and you do not tell him what you just saw. Do you understand me?”

Stiles nods at once. “Yes.”

Dad doesn’t look like he believes him, which: fair.

Stiles rolls his eyes. “Yes. Okay? I promise. Jeez,” he says, like he isn’t clutching Jinx to his chest, hard enough to make her uncomfortable and squirm.

Scott’s quiet on the drive home. Whether he notices something is wrong or he’s thinking about how tired his mom looks all the time, Stiles doesn’t know, but he does say, “You still want to come over for tacos tomorrow?”

“Maybe,” Stiles says. He can’t stop thinking about what the doctor had said. Mutilation. “Dad wants me home tonight, but I’ll see about tomorrow.”

“Cool,” Scott says, after a little hesitation.

They drive in silence for a long time. Once he can’t take it anymore, Stiles grabs for a topic, “You ever think about sasquatch?”

Scott just looks at him.

“Big foot? Yeti? Abominable snowman?” Stiles flexes his hands on the wheel and listens to the creak of the rubber and Jinx quotes under her breath, pressing the words into his thigh, “Adorable snowman, agreeable snowman.”

“Not really,” Scott says, grinning a little. Then he frowns and says, “You think they’re real?”

“I think we’ll be lucky if they’re not,” Stiles says at once. How would they fight that? Would they have to? Would it be dangerous? He hopes not. “You think they’re sentient enough to have daemons?”

“God, I hope not,” Jinx says, lifting her head from where she’d been sniffing around his pocket. “Can you imagine? They’d probably have something small, though, like lice. Gross.”

“Why lice?” Scott asks dubiously.

Jinx is victorious in digging out the packet of fruit gushers Stiles had pocketed on their way out the door. She holds it up to Scott, who rips it open and nips a blue one before handing it back. “Gotta be something small or we’d have legends about it; rats and mice can’t hold onto fur that well; worms couldn’t survive the snow? Well, maybe, but it’s not like they have pockets. Lice can survive like, anywhere. Besides they can’t be that human.”

They talk about that for a while. Scott clearly wants to ask Stiles a question—not about sasquatch—and Stiles is braced for it. He doesn’t know how to lie about this, but Scott must decide it’s not worth it, because he turns back to the dashboard and cranks up the volume on the radio and they listen to TSwift be rangy and bitter all the way to Scott’s house.

It’s a good thing that Hyacinth is riding along in the flatbed and not in the cabin. She can almost always tell when Stiles is lying or hiding something.

His dad is later than he said he’d be. Stiles and Jinx take the time to go sniff through the files that Dad left on his desk. They’re in plain view of the hall and everything so it’s not even his fault; that’s pretty much declaring it open rabbit season. He’s thorough, but there’s nothing even remotely like daemons being killed and only one or two domestics and a robbery. He’d check the safe in the closet, but his dad changes the code every week and Stiles hasn’t cracked the pattern to them yet, or found the cheat sheet.

He’s heating up some Chunky soup when Ophalia trots into the kitchen, Dad on her heels.

“Okay, let’s talk,” Dad says, and makes a half gesture to the dining room table. Stiles grabs his bowl out of the microwave and a spoon from the drawer and sits down. He helps Jinx get into the chair next to him, and then all at once loses his appetite and pushes the soup at his dad, who takes it with a grateful smile.

Stiles starts off. “How long has this been happening?”

“This isn’t something you can tell your friends,” Dad warns first, with a look on his face that’s clearly debating the rules versus the probability of Stiles’ curiosity getting the better of him.

“Okay,” Stiles says.

“I’m serious.”

“Yes,” Stiles says, impatient. “I get it.”

“Because I know you and Scott talk about everything, but not about this.”

“I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t believe me,” Stiles says, but neither of them really sees any truth in that.

His dad is turning forty-four next year. He’s getting wrinkly around the eyes and mouth. There’s a craggy line between his eyebrows from when he frowns or looks at something too hard. He needs new glasses but won’t get them. Part of that is Stiles’ fault, he knows.

“I won’t tell him,” Stiles promises, voice not as convincing as he wants it to be. Once upon a time that would have been it, but they've sailed clear past that island. He doesn’t call Stiles out on it, though, and just sits back in his chair and eats a little. He makes Stiles wait impatiently until he’s about a third of the way done.

Then he says, "The first one popped up around the start of June.” He stops, and takes another spoonful of soup. "I don't know, it's not intercision, there's still a," he waves a hand through the air between him and Ophalia. "There’s still a bond, but something's happened to it, and the daemons die. I've never seen anything like it before, they just kind of blow away, and their humans don't want to be alive after."

Stiles’ sixth grade fieldtrip was to the Natural History Museum. They were there for the civil war, but one of the exhibits they weren’t allowed to see and he snuck into anyway was on old medieval torture devices. He remembers all the shining, three hundred year old knives glinting purple and green and blue like oily water, sharp as if they were brand new. There had been all these etchings of what people looked like when their daemons were cut from them encased in glass around the room. They looked like what he’d assumed people in hell would look like.

Stiles swallows down all the reflexive, flippant things he could say to that and stares at his hands clenched together on the table. He thinks about the guy at the hospital, and says, "How many?"

"Six," Dad says, and holds up his hands when Stiles' whips his head up to look at him. "Yeah, I know."

"How are you keeping this quiet?" he asks; he doesn’t put much stock in the journalism outfit in Beacon Hills, but this is pretty enormous. To the side, Jinx is investigating the box of crackers left over from last night. When she’s done she heads over across the table to sit next to where Ophalia has laid her head, sniffing shyly at her muzzle and presenting herself to be groomed.

"The first two were already dead," Dad says, and lays a hand on Ophalia, stroking her broad forehead and rubbing one of her floppy ears between his fingers. "We didn't connect them until the other ones started dying. The bodies—there's something about them," he breathes in hard through his nose. "Like they've been sucked up from the inside. I don't know how to explain it."

"Do you have any suspects? Is this a serial killer or something?"

"None of the victims match," Dad says, but that’s not a no. "Racial disparity, different ages, men, women, no daemon similarities except they’re usually pretty big. It’s pretty random." He shrugs, and taps his spoon on the edge of his bowl. "We thought it was a disease or something, but they don't have any point of contact and their families haven't been affected besides well…fuck,” he trails off, a solemn look on his face. "Sorry," he says to no one, remnant of habit.

"The daemons that survive," he adds, “don't last very long, but one of them told me—it kept saying—red eyes, red eyes, over and over. Like," he snaps his fingers, points in the vague direction of the living room, "In that Paranormal movie; the lady's daemon just stares at the camera for hours and hours. Like that. It just kept saying—red eyes, red eyes. Didn't even flinch when I tried to touch it."

Stiles makes a face, and Jinx recoils a little. "You tried to touch it?"

He shakes his head, but it's Ophalia who says, "He wouldn't respond at all," her big brown eyes sad, a little watery. "We just wanted to see if he'd move. Some of the others started saying it too, before they died."

"We think he wears contacts or something," Dad says, and waves a hand like he can't believe the people of today. "None of the humans have been able to give a description. Well, they can’t really say anything—but they panic if we ask about it."

Stiles doesn't know what to say to that, so he doesn't say anything, and they sit in silence while his dad finishes his soup and goes to rinse out the bowl in the sink and put it in the dishwasher. When he comes back, he lays his hands out, palms flat on the table and says, "I need you to stay out of this."

Stiles holds up his hands. "I'm not going after a serial killer!"

Dad looks like he physically can't put into words just how angry everything about this makes him, but he says in a soft, calm voice, "This isn’t animal attacks, or your psychotic classmate. We've never seen anything like this before. We don't know how he's doing it and we don't know how he picks his victims and I swear to god, Stiles, if I get called to the hospital and Jinx is—" he stops and all four of them flinch, and Dad hesitates for a good long second, clearly horrified, before he stumbles and goes on, "You have to promise me you won't go looking for information or—or try to help or whatever it is you think you have to do."

"Okay," Stiles says, and tucks his arms around Jinx's shivering body when she crawls back to him. "I promise."

His dad just sighs, like he gives up, and goes to lie down on the couch.

After, up in their room and hiding under the blankets, Jinx noses out from under the pillows she claimed as a fort, and nuzzles his cheek, her whiskers tickling his nose and stabbing him in the eye. "Red eyes, do you think it's Derek?"

Stiles thinks for a minute, but his immediate reaction to that is no and so that’s what he says.

"The alphas are gone," she points out, and sighs against the hand he worms under her chin, scritching lightly, then harder as she pushes insistently against his fingers, demanding. “Can’t be them.”

"I don't think it's werewolves," he says, "I don't think they can do this."

"Peter sucked up Derek's energy to be not dead," she counters.

“Yeah but he hasn’t tried to eat anyone’s daemon,” he argues, but doubtfully.

She huffs and crawls over Stiles’ chest to settle into the crook of his belly. “That we know of,” she grumbles. “Surprise! I’m still a serial killer.”

Before he'd died, Peter's daemon had been feral, covered in patchy melted bits of fur and skin that hadn’t healed right. She’s been so skinny her bones looked like they’d poke out of her skin, and she laughed like Lion King hyenas with her fangs around Jinx's throat, had dragged her around like a kitten, a piece of wiggly meat. She didn't come back with Peter, and Stiles doesn't know if that's a good thing or not—he doesn’t know how Peter’s surviving without her. But in the end, it’s more along the lines of everything about Peter being a bad thing.

"That was a special moon," Stiles says finally, but he's not so sure, now. "And a special Lydia thing. Should we go talk to him?"

Jinx curls up in the crook of his neck“Peter or Derek?”

“Derek.”

“Probably," she says, but she sounds petty about it. "You should tell him we'll only help if he tells us his daemon's name."

Stiles laughs.

He puts it off for a couple days.

He doesn't know if Derek’s been staying at the train station and doesn't really want to go check it out. He could ask one of his cabbage patch kids, but he doesn't have any of their numbers or how he'd explain showing up at their houses without mentioning that he's looked them all up on his dad's work computer.

He could try Isaac but that would mean telling Scott why he needs to get in contact with Derek in the first place. He's also a little scared that he's wrong and Derek has given up the anti-hero schtick and has started doing horrible things because he’s broken and lonely and messed up.

Theoretically, he could leave a note at the Hale house, which he's pretty sure Derek frequents abnormally a lot, but it’s exactly like going to the train station, just more remote.

Turns out Derek finds him first.

"Holy shitting Christ," he says, when he gets home and throws himself into his desk chair and sees Derek and his monster wolf daemon sitting in the corner. They’re curled up around each other but separate once Stiles turns to look at them properly. Derek's daemon drops her head onto her front paws and glares as Jinx squeaks and shoots under the bed. "What the hell is wrong with you?"

"Sorry," Derek says, although he doesn't really sound like it.

"How do you even get her up here?" Stiles says, going over to investigate the windowsill for gouges, imaging what his dad's going to say when he finds out they have to replace the roof because claws.

"I took the stairs," Derek says, sounding a little like he doesn't know if Stiles is joking or not.

He wasn’t expecting that. "What?"

"I didn't climb in the window," Derek says, squinting at him. "I picked the lock on the back door."

What! "That's really—horrible," Stiles says. "Oh my god, you can’t do that anymore. What if my dad had been here?"

"He wasn't," Derek says.

“That’s really not the point,” Stiles insists.

Derek’s daemon has beer-bottle green eyes, fur like a snow pile, and tracks Stiles like she's waiting for him to do something horrible. She snaps at Jinx if she investigates too close, but doesn’t seem particularly intent about it; wary, annoyed. It probably says something unflattering about Stiles that Jinx keeps going back and trying again, stubborn.

"I could wait on the porch next time," Derek adds, with a flat look on his face. "If you want."

"Or the backyard.” Stiles sucks in a deep steadying breath. There’s also the tree house, but he imagines that wouldn’t go over very well either with the ladder. “Or you could text me," Stiles points out, voice carefully slow. "Since you have a phone. This isn’t Bedrock, circa stone age!"

Derek does look a little sheepish at that. "I don't have your number," Derek admits. "I broke my old one."

"Oh, well why didn’t you say so?" Stiles says. That’s an easy fix. He turns back to his desk and scribbles it on a square scrap of paper torn out of his old chem review notebook. There's part of a hydrogen balancing equation on one half, smudged but legible, iron nitrate? No, silver. Ag—not the point. In any case, he figures Derek won’t care about it. He folds it into a tiny paper airplane and says, "Here," and sends it sailing. It manages a second or two of wobbly flight before nose-diving into Derek's lap. "Don't sneak in, it's weird and creepy and if my dad ever finds out he'll do horrible things to you and I’ll let him."

"Okay," Derek says, sounding like he won’t, but he tucks it in his pocket, at least.

"Sure," Stiles says, scrubs a thumb into the tension in his left temple. "Did you—need something?"

Derek flushes, the tips of his ears, but looks angry, caught and embarrassed; it must be something good; public indecency? "Hunters have been sniffing around again," Derek says, and when he lifts his arm, his shirt ripped and bloody, streaked down to his thigh, staining his jeans, but the skin is smooth.

Oh. “Do you need anything for that?” Stiles asks, perfunctory, and when Derek shakes his head, Stiles looks away until Derek puts his arm down. Spilled blood brings a shit show with it. “I thought the Argents were retired.”

“Not the only hunters in the world,” Derek says, and then looks a little uncomfortable. “I didn’t—I thought you’d be home later. I just needed.” He stops, and shoves his daemon a little when she starts to growl. “I know this is weird,” he says, and goes quiet. He sounds like he’s trying to apologize and he doesn’t really know how, like he hasn’t been taught, or has too much to narrow down.

“What about your boxcar or its children?” Stiles asks, when the silence drags on too long. “Couldn’t you have sewn yourself up with one of them?”

“They’re watching the station, and Isaac has a stay-at-home guardian,” Derek says, reluctantly. “And Erica and Boyd don’t want me around their families.”

“Not surprising,” Stiles says before he thinks about it. “Sorry.”

“I thought you had practice,” Derek says, ignoring that. “Scott does.”

“Scott’s not going to be on the bench if he gets good grades next year,” Stiles says.

Derek looks confused at that. “You played that one game,” he says, awkward like he doesn’t really know how to make small talk. “I heard you did pretty good.” He doesn’t, Stiles thinks, he’d need friends for that.

Stiles collapses onto his chair and swivels around to face the dark screen of his laptop, wondering what the hell he’s even doing here, part of this situation, and says shortly, “Yeah, well, things change.”

He kind of wants Derek to leave, since he’s obviously all right, since this is Stiles’ room, Stiles’ sanctuary, and he’s all at once furious, but then Jinx, who’s been systematically reaching a paw out from under the bed to touch Derek’s daemon’s tail every time she looks away, pipes up, “Have you been eating daemons?” a tiny, pitched voice echoing from under the bed skirt.

“What?” Derek says.

“Oh my god, Jinx,” Stiles says.

“You said we needed to ask him,” she says, and crawls out from under the bed to glare right into Derek’s daemon’s face. She tries to snarl and look threatening, but fails at it mostly. Derek’s wolf folds her ears tight to her head and bares her teeth a little.

“Not like that,” Stiles protests, and before Derek can get into a snit about it, Stiles explains what his dad told him.

“It’s an us thing isn’t it?” he asks after he finishes and Derek says nothing.

“Maybe,” Derek offers, but he’s distracted. After a minute he heaves himself to his feet and heads to the door.

“Hey!” Stiles yells and chases after them. Derek is already at the bottom of the stairs once Stiles clears his room, but he has enough time to clatter down to the bottom to say, “Change your shirt you look like you killed someone,” before Derek and his daemon disappear out the back door.

“You didn’t get her name,” Jinx says, from three stairs above him, and nips at his fingers when he pushes her head away.

“Yeah, well,” Stiles says, and goes back to his room.

The dad from the hospital dies later that weekend. Stiles finds out when Dad gets home and goes straight for the liquor cabinet, throwing back a stiff shot.

“Bad day?” he asks.

“Worst,” his dad says, but they don’t talk about it, and his dad insists they spend the night watching movies, nothing horribly violent, Shrek, Iron Man, and the next day, they go for lunch and watch a game on the big screen over wraps and wings.

It’s not until Monday night that he gets a text from an unknown number saying, found something, and an address, nothing else.

“Okay I’m not going to come to some random hole in the middle of the night without more than a text,” Stiles says, when he calls the number back immediately, and Derek picks up on the fourth ring. “Hi, is this you?”

“Yes,” Derek says, sounding reluctant. “Are you coming?”

“Haven’t decided,” Stiles says, and shushes Jinx, who’s on the bed, demanding to know what’s happening. “What is it?”

“I’ll tell you when you get here,” Derek says, and hangs up.

Stiles stares at the call disconnected screen on his phone, and then gets up to put on pants.

“But I’m tired,” Jinx whines, but she hops into his backpack when he holds it up as a compromise. The address isn’t too far away, but it is in a pretty sketchy part of the warehouse district. Derek and his daemon materialize out of the shadows once the Jeep gets close, a flashlight in one hand. Derek’s found a new shirt, clingy and blue, buttons hanging free around his neck.

“So?” Stiles says, when he parks and gets out. Jinx insists on walking, even though she complained the entire way there about this, that and the other thing; how all the mud and garbage makes her fur smell and he should be glad he’s so tall and it’s really late Stiles and Scott doesn’t know we’re here.

“It’s inside,” Derek says, frustratingly, and Stiles just rolls his eyes and follows, clears a little path for Jinx to follow behind him.

The building Derek takes him to is the third of a series of tall, red brick industrial grade warehouses, no windows save the ones way up high, twenty feet, near the roof, most of which are shattered. There’s a back alley gallery of paint tags leading up to a door; gang symbols, a joke about camels, and one huge mural of an octopus that looks a little like the one time Stiles tried mushrooms and looked at a garden hose; heaps of trash piled up the walls in dirty, ripped garbage bags.

“Classy place,” Stiles says dryly.

“It gets even better,” Derek says, and rips a couple two-by-fours off the service entrance. The inside smells dank and like an outhouse, pungent with dirty, trapped air. It burns his nose a little.

“This has got to be killing you,” he says, sleeves of his hoody muffled over his mouth, and decides to take Derek’s resulting silence as agreement. It’s really, really awful. “Oh my god did someone die in here?”

“Yes,” Derek says.

“What?” Stiles says, startled. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I just did?” Derek points out.

“That’s totally not the point! What if I hadn’t wanted to see a dead body?” Stiles shakes his head.

“You always want to see a dead body,” Derek points out, over his shoulder. Stiles doesn’t have a rejoinder to that because: truth, but Jinx is already saying at Derek’s daemon, “Hey, Nameless, your human sucks,” which doesn’t get a response, but Stiles forgets about wanting one when Derek turns the flashlight beam to the corner and trips over the odd, collapsed angles of a corpse.

“Oh fuck,” Stiles says, and wants to gag a little.

“That the same thing you saw?” Derek asks. His wolf walks off, ears pricked forward, checking the perimeter and heading all the way to the other end of the warehouse. Stiles watches her go, the ease of it as the distance stretches, ten, thirty, fifty feet, no sign of alarm or pain.

“Yeah—well, I mean, the guy I saw was alive but—” he creeps closer, doesn’t really want to, but needs to get a better look. It’s a woman, he guesses, in a tattered tartan skirt black leggings and slim, white flats. She has tissue-paper skin, crumbling away into dust along her pointed cheekbones and clavicle, skeletal and sucked-dry looking, a little like she should be in a museum. “How long has she been here? Do you know?”

“A week or two, I think,” Derek says.

“That’s not right,” Stiles says to himself. “I mean, she should still be decomposing, right? It looks like she’s been mummified.”

“There aren’t any rats or bugs on her,” Derek says, and shrugs when Stiles looks at him. “Or in the building.”

“You mean they’re avoiding her?” Stiles says, and then, “Wait, you can hear that?”

“If I concentrate.”

“That’s—pretty cool actually,” Stiles says, and angles away from the body; it still smells but at least he doesn’t have to look. “Hey, how far can you werewolf? Scott never wants to test it out. We’re pretty close to the highway can you hear that?” and then he can’t help but ask, “Do you hear a lot of people having sex? Is it weird? Of course it’s weird, ha, um, can you turn it off?”

Derek’s mouth slants into something that can’t decide between a smile or a frown. “Do you really want to know that?”

“Well, no. Actually—kind of,” Stiles says, and Jinx makes a disgusted noise. “I mean, the range and the—not if you’re a voyeur.”

“I don’t really—I’ve had it all my life.” Derek shrugs again and looks uncomfortable. “I can ignore it sometimes if I have to.”

“Scott says he can turn it off.”

“He might be able to,” Derek says, “if he remembers what his human limits were. Can we get back to the…”

“Right—” Stiles says, and spins on his heel. “Okay, so no bugs or rats or maggots. You’d think there’d be maggots at least. Flies are kind of—indiscriminant. I’m mean, there’s not a lot. Left, I guess. But—Do you know what this is? What’s happened to her?”

“I think so, maybe,” Derek breathes hard through his nose. “I have to ask Peter,” sounding like he’d rather do eat his own toenails.

“Okay, well,” Stiles says. “I should probably call someone. My dad,” he clarifies, uselessly. It’s not like either of them doesn’t know what happened the last time he called the cops to pick up a dead body.

He backs away and then trips over Jinx, and, trying not to step on her, nearly clips Derek’s daemon with a foot. Jinx had been following her, keeping close and bothering her. “Sorry—sorry!” he yells when she snarls at them, hunched up. Jesus, okay, I’m not touching you.”

“Ash,” Derek snaps, “Shut up,” and scowls when she turns and bares her teeth at him and then stalks off to the other side of the warehouse.

“What?” he snaps at Stiles next, who’s never seen anyone’s daemon react like that to their own human and doesn’t know what to do with it now that he has.

Stiles blinks and falters and then says, “Ash?” and not the six hundred other things crowding for immediate attention.

“Her name,” Derek says, impatient, clearly expecting Stiles to say something else. He folds his arms puffs out his chest a bit, trying to make himself look bigger, and Stiles kind of wants to laugh because it makes him look huffy and dramatic, but he doesn’t because that would probably make him mad.

“Kind of morbid,” Stiles says. “Considering—”

“Yeah, we know,” Derek says, snippy, looking attacked. He seems to deflate, after a minute. “Asterope,” he amends.

“Oh,” Stiles says, “That’s nice—pretty. Very nice.” He isn’t surprised when Derek looks for the lie in it.

“My sister’s daemon called her Ass for a while,” Derek says and shrugs. It’s a gesture Stiles has learned to interpret as discomfort. “We needed something—” he clears his throat. “Better.”

“Sounds like he was pretty funny,” Stiles says.

“She thought so,” Derek says. He doesn’t sound bitter, just enormously sad.

After a swelling moment of silence, Derek says, “I’ll call the cops, if you want. In an hour. Head home, I just needed to make sure—” he waves at the body.

“I get it,” Stiles says, feeling strangely let down and not really sure why. He heads back to the exit, doesn’t look at the body again. He stops before he’s through the door, and when he turns around, Derek’s already looking at him, and so is his daemon. “My dad’s going to be involved with this,” he says, shoving his hands in his pockets, and nudging back when Jinx paws at his pant leg. “I need to know—don’t keep me in the dark about this.”

Derek nods his head once. It’s not exactly a yes, but it’ll have to do. “Make sure you don’t leave any fingerprints,” Stiles adds, and leaves.

Jinx doesn’t say anything on the ride home, but starts to complain when she discovers a piece of gum stuck to her tail when they get to the turnoff to their street.

“Well stay in the backpack next time,” Stiles says, back in the house, running the kitchen tap with hot water. He listens carefully to any sounds of movement from upstairs. Ophalia’s going a little deaf, but not enough that they don’t have to be careful.

“I can’t,” Jinx says. “It’s humiliating.”

Stiles stares at her. “You have never, ever thought that before ever in your life, you lazy lying asshole. Excuse you.”

“It’s a girl thing, you wouldn’t get it.” Jinx thunks down into the water when the sink is half full, and sends a cascade over the counter, and when Stiles jumps back, hisses, “Jesus, Jinx!” she says, “Sorry,” not sounding it.

“You’re more of a man than I am,” he grumbles, after he gets Jinx’s shampoo and a couple towels from the upstairs closet and makes sure his dad’s door is closed.

“Excuse you, I am a precious delicate lady,” she sniffs, scrubbing at her face, and then rolling over to nibble at her tail, the fur around the gum. “It’s a—power thing—look, she’s already bigger than me; if I’m weak she wins.”

“That’s a man thing,” Stiles says. By the time he lathers the suds up her back and between her toes and into her belly, he’s soaked, wet sleeves up to the elbow, most of the front of him patchy and dark, clinging to his belly, his thighs. “That’s what you just described.”

“You see the way she growled at him?” she says, changing the subject, looking up with her dewy black eyes. “She looked like she was going to chew on his asshole.”

“Yeah,” Stiles says. He grabs a pair of beard scissors from the grooming kit under the phone and gently starts snipping away at the fur that won’t let go of the gum. “Do you think she would’ve?”

“Dunno. Probably. She seems kind of psycho.”

“You’ve bit me before,” Stiles points out.

“Yeah but—” she flicks her tail. “I didn’t bite you bite you. What’s up with that?”

“Don’t know,” Stiles says, and forces a laugh. “Though let’s be honest, 24/7 Derek would make dicks out of all of us.”

“Right?” she says, and it falls a little flat for both of them.

Stiles lays a towel out on the counter for Jinx to sit on while he drains the sink and wipes away the extra water from the counter. Then he rubs her down until she’s puffed up and irritated at him from the rough handling, and goes to shove the towels into the washing machine. He hauls Jinx upstairs, changes into pajamas and shuts off his light, and has just enough time to crawl under the covers and get comfortable before he hears his dad’s phone go off through the wall. It rings four times before his dad answers, and they listen quietly to his shuffling gait as he wakes up Ophalia and gets dressed and leaves.

“Probably should’ve waited until morning,” Jinx says, finally.

“Yeah,” Stiles says.

“It wasn’t going anywhere.”

“Yeah,” Stiles says again, and, “You’re damp,” feeling guilty about the rest of it, and shoves her off his pillow.

He doesn’t hear from Derek for a while—not surprising—and the news finally catches wind of what’s been going on. They go after his dad and the police department like the frothing hounds of hell—also not surprising. That they get reporters from out of down—national, international, CBC and FOX and CNN, all the rest of the alphabet—is kind of a shock, but then, considering the topic material, maybe not.

Reporters’ daemons are almost always birds or flying things so the evening Channel Six local report is heavily deafening. There’s a lot of cawing and chirping mixed in with all the shouted questions cannonballed at the plain wood police podium, so Stiles can’t really hear what’s being said, even though he knows the details. Dad handles it well on screen, looks calm and in control and Ophalia’s huge, still body makes everything seem important and well handled. In a fit of guilty pity, Stiles orders a couple big meat lovers for them when they get back. Ophalia eats half a box by herself, and his dad parks it on the couch with a beer and an air of petulance like he’s never going to get up or do anything ever again.

“God I hate reporters,” he says, “Don’t ever be a reporter,” and when Stiles snorts he rolls his head to the side to look at him, mouth quirked up even though his eyes are kind of hazy. “They found another body,” he says by way of explanation, and makes a frustrated noise and rubs his knuckles through his stubble.

“Same as the rest?” Stiles says, carefully neutral.

“Yeah,” he says. “She only went missing a couple weeks ago and she was already—” he shakes his head, and stands up, collects his plate and crusts and napkins, “Never mind. I shouldn’t be talking about this. Thank you for the pizza. I’ll leave some money on the counter,” and heads off into the kitchen to put it away, and then upstairs for an early night.

Stiles watches him go with a sick sense of foreboding, and then goes to clean his own dishes. He puts the extra pizza in Tupperware and stacks it in the fridge next to the margarine, and sits in front of the TV for a couple more hours first watching the news reels and then flipping to Mythbusters and then finally off.

“This is going to end badly,” he says to himself, and Jinx from the floor says, “Trademark.”

In the truest fashion of best friends, Scott stops by the next day to be supportive, and they hang out in the backyard throwing lacrosse balls back and forth at each other for a good solid hour, trying to see who can hit who in the junk the fastest—Stiles wins, surprisingly enough, at twelve minutes—while Jinx swims around in a kiddy pool by the deck and Cinth naps next to it under the crab apple tree.

“So it’s true? Someone’s killing daemons?” Scott asks, finally giving in to the curiosity of it all.

“Yeah,” Stiles says, “And it might have something to do with,” he makes a vague gesture at Scott’s face and then hooks his forefingers out in front of his mouth, which makes Scott snort. “You know.”

“Seriously?”

“Derek’s looking into it,” Stiles says, and Scott nods along for a second then frowns at him.

“Wait, when did he find out?” with an expression on his face that always makes Stiles feel like a bad guy. “When did you find out?”

“A couple days ago,” he admits reluctantly, spotting Jinx rolling and splashing Cinth with flicks of her tail, getting dunked when Cinth reaches in with one massive paw and shoves her underwater without looking. “When we took your mom lunch—there was a guy in ICU. I kinda snuck in.”

Scott is silent for a minute and then says, “Don’t ever let her find out you did that. She’ll ground you.”

“Wasn’t planning on it,” Stiles says, shrugs a little, spins his lacrosse stick in his hands, juggling the ball. Then he decides he can't deal with Scott's disappointment without something to eat, so he says, “Come on,” and towels Jinx off and heads inside to grate cheese and set the oven to make nachos.

"I don't want to work with Derek," Scott says, once he's finished dolling out salsa and sour cream into a couple orange nesting bowls, and spread out the Tostitos and tin foil onto a cookie sheet. He says in that resigned kind of way that means he'll do it if he has to, but he won't be happy about it, surprising all of no one.

"Yeah, well, neither do I," Stiles says, impatient. "He's mean and awkward and—" his daemon doesn't like him, "—if this is a supernatural thing, I'm not running around blind here. It's a bit too important now," Stiles says, and forgets an oven mitt and burns his fingers a little grabbing the cookie sheet out of the oven. Sucking on his fingertips, he take the ice-cube tray Scott magics out of the freezer, and melts little dents with where it hurts while Scott gets the tray out himself and turns off the oven.

"I just don't trust him," Scott says, frustrated, like this is brand new information or something. "He's not going to tell us anything."

"Let's be fair," Stiles says, as he loads a cheesy chip and shoves it in his mouth, burns his tongue a little. "None of us have been all that honest," he says, muffled around a mouthful. "Maybe we need to change that."

They had a fight—after. About Gerard, the cure Stiles hadn’t been helping with—this enormous, shattering kind of fight that felt shitty before and shitty during and ever worse in the following two weeks of deadlock where they couldn't sit beside each other in class or at lunch, words like, you could have gotten us all killed, and you think I'm too stupid to figure things out on my own, echoing in the fragile space between them.

“Yeah well,” Scott says, stymied, and then beseechingly, “Do we have to? Can’t we just be petty for once?”

"Let’s just see where it goes," Stiles says, laughing a little, holding a chip with salsa for Jinx to nibble on. Daemons don't need to eat, but they can if they want and don't get sick like regular animals. Jinx loves salsa and hot sauce and peppers, and sugar—frosting when she can get it. Cherry tomatoes in handfuls. "Who knows, maybe this is just a regular old murderer, and we don't have to worry about it at all."

Scott doesn't look convinced, but they don't talk about it again after that.

It's not a regular murderer.

"Excuse me, vampires?" Stiles says, choking a little on his milkshake. They're at Jenny's Burgers out on the outskirts of town, the only other patrons a couple of truckers at the bar in mesh hats, and a family of four getting breakfast before heading out on a road trip. Stiles is only slightly less surprised that Derek would be seen in public with him than he is about this brand new catastrophe.

"Soul eaters," Derek corrects.

"You said they sucked blood," Stiles says. The more he learns about the supernatural flip side to his normal human realities, the less he likes. “So, vampires.”

“It’s not. Exactly like that,” Derek says, clearly frustrated without the words to explain.

Stiles taps his fingers on the table. “Well spell it out for me.”

“Vampires aren’t real,” Derek says, and then shakes his head. “Traditional vampires—they’re a human thing. They do drink blood but it’s,” he swirls around the straw of his coke, clinking the ice. He hasn't drunk any of it yet, but he seems content enough to have something to do with his hands. “It’s a way of siphoning off the energy of a daemon. Not a food source itself. They can feed directly from a daemon if they want. But it’s riskier. They kill them faster.”

“That’s—” Stiles says. “Awful,” but it really doesn’t cover it.

"They want their daemons back so bad they'll suck all the life out of other peoples' to get the feeling," Derek continues, and on the floor, Jinx makes an alarmed sound. "It's a compulsion, and they're just good enough to control it so they don't get caught."

“Oh,” Stiles says; this is all turning sideways into terrible town. “So, I just had this horrible thought like Tootsie Pops, right, but with daemons. How many licks does it take to get to the center? And now I’m freaking out.”

Derek frowns at him. “I never know when you’re taking things seriously,” he admits.

“Yeah, neither do I, mostly.” Stiles processes for a second. "Do you know how many there are?"

"No." He pauses. “Well—two, maybe three? The scent wasn’t that strong, at the warehouse.” He taps his thumb on the red acrylic table topper. “But there’s definitely more than one.”

"Do you know where they're staying?"

Derek makes a face. "You think I wouldn’t tell you?"

“Uh, yeah, kind of,” Stiles says, shoving a couple fries in his mouth.

“Well I don’t.”

“O-kay,” Stiles says. “Don’t rip my face off. Actually hey, on that note, Peter doesn’t have a daemon, right, so…” Stiles says, warily, losing his appetite, shuddering involuntarily; even the thought of not having a daemon—“What’s that make him exactly? I was thinking zombie but he’s not classically decomposing. And then I was thinking fast zombie, but he hasn’t actually lost his mind, just—” he makes a vague loop-d-loop, with a fry, “His moral code and ethics and respect for human dignity, or whatever.”

"He’s something else," Derek says. It’s nine o’clock so the sun’s been up for a while, and the restaurant faces east so when Derek looks up at Stiles then, his eyes are three different colors—blue, green, brown kind of. Nice, he doesn’t think. "He didn't do this."

"How do you figure?" Stiles asks, because he wouldn't put this past Peter at all.

"I couldn't smell him on the body," Derek says, shrugs a little, unconcerned. Dangerous, Stiles thinks; but that's Derek's initiative. If he wants get in bed with a killer that’s no fuzz off Stiles’ balls. He knows best what Peter is capable of.

They sit in awkward silence while Stiles thinks about it, all of it, the dead demons and Peter and all the wolves, the brief terror of the alphas. Then Asterope apparently gets sick of whatever shit Jinx is pulling at their feet and reaches out with a paw to cover her face and push her to the ground. Jinx squeaks something rude and tries to bite, but Asterope just backs off enough for Jinx to miss and then put the paw back, repeat. Stiles has seen cats do this in real life, and on YouTube, and it reminds him of the old cartoons with a tiny fighter being held back with a boxing glove on his forehead, arms swinging like crazy, getting nowhere.

“Uppercut, bro,” he advises Jinx’s pitiful struggling.

"I was just asking a question!" Jinx yells at once, offended. She backs off and stands up on her back legs and beats on the bench cushion with her paws so Stiles will help her up. "Can't she answer a question?" she demands, popping up to look right at Derek.

"No," he says, although the second after he says it he looks like he wants to take it back, or run away.

"What?" Stiles says.

"She doesn't talk," Derek says, doesn't look at any of them, that kind of miserable avoidance Stiles recognizes from whenever he talks to his dad and huh, Cinth was right. "Hasn't for years."

"That's—" Stiles starts, and then stops. Stiles thought maybe Asterope was just shy, or rude. He hates learning new things about Derek because it always makes him feel sad or off balance; it’s hard to hate someone you pity.

"Pathetic?" Derek says, mouth curling into a sneer. "Who's daemon won't talk to them, right? What a dipshit."

"I wasn’t going to say that," Stiles finishes, frowning. "I was going to say it’s too bad. Don't put words in my mouth. I’ll do that myself."

The expression on Derek’s face clearly says he doesn’t believe Stiles, but he lets it go. "I'll text you if I find anything," Derek says, and slides out of the booth, Asterope at his heels. He yanks a twenty out of his wallet, drops it on the table next to the billfold and leaves, coke still full, slippery with condensation, burger gone cold.

"Sorry," Jinx mumbles, hunched up a little into the swell of Stiles’ thigh once the Camaro is gone out of the lot

"Not your fault," Stiles says, and scritches behind her ears, at the seam in her fur where it transitions from dark brown to tan.

They have an argument about it, but in the end Jinx convinces him they need as much help as they can, and they don't get to leave her out of this after everything that happened last year. So. They head over to Lydia's.

"What?" she says, when she opens the door. Her peacock, Pascal, is perched on her shoulder, his long tail draped carefully over her arm like a colourful cape, a palette of greens and blues, browns and shimmery golds. She leans against the jamb, carefully blocked in by the frame of the door like a photograph.

“Wow, you look like a model,” he says, in that immediate lack of higher functioning way that makes him want to die.

“Don’t start, please,” she says, and holds up a hand; her bangles jangle.

“Sorry,” he says. “Sorry! That was dumb. I won’t—I just need some help with something. If you’re—free. Sorry," he says again, and holds out the flash drive with Gerard's bestiary. "Have you seen the news at all?"

Her expression tightens a little, and Pascal coos anxiously. "Is that part of this?" she asks, apprehensive.

"Yeah, we think so," Stiles says, and tries not to squirm when she looks at him, still caught in that brittle place where her attention makes him nervous and sweaty and hopeful. Finally she sighs and rattles her keys at him.

"I'm going for lunch," she says, "Meet me at the Olive Garden down by the Rona in half an hour and I'll take a look at it."

"Thank you," he says, and smiles a little when she closes the door.

The hostess doesn't look like she believes him when he asks for a table for two, but takes him to a two-top by the window, bright with afternoon sunshine, her shiny green snake looped around her neck like an accessory. "Actually," he says, "The person who's joining me—her daemon needs some space—can I get a booth?"

He's feeding Jinx bits of breadstick when Lydia sweeps in like a fabulous storm, perched on precarious heels in fiery red. Pascal leaps off her shoulder onto the backboard of the bench, so his long tail hangs down the seat and underneath the table. She won't talk shop until she's at least had a bowl of soup, and then picks delicately away at Stiles' laptop like she doesn't really want to touch it. "What are we looking for?"

“Soul eaters,” he says, the taste of it sour in his mouth. Her expression tightens, but when she says, "Oh, daemons," her voice is light, unconcerned; she’s always been good at that.

It doesn't take her very long to find when Stiles needs, whipping through translations, showing off a little, maybe, but the passage isn't very long, and mostly consists of common sense hunting practices, garlic doesn't work, beheading does, shooting doesn’t, not really, unless it’s right to the head, vulnerable to electricity, how to get someone out of a thrall—

"What?" Stiles interrupts. Jinx has been surprisingly quiet, napping lightly against his thigh, breathing slow and long and unhurried, her little ribs expanding under his hand, but she wakes up at that.

“‘Beware the tainted chattel,’” she recites, “‘blah blah polluted blood blah blah enchanted mind will guard unto death.’ It's where the bloodsucking myth came from, apparently," Lydia says, turning the laptop so he can see the screen. She points at something incomprehensibly old and he waits for her to explain. "It's a hoarding mechanism. They don't want to kill off their food in case they can't get more. Our blood is still metaphysically attached to our daemons, it's like a—" she plucks her straw out of her water. "Imagine this compared to drinking straight from the glass. Which would drain faster? Or better, one of those coffee stir straws; you’d need a whole hell of a lot more effort; it’s a built in impulse control."

"Right," he says. He folds his napkin into a triangle and gives an extra to Jinx to destroy. He’d kind of been hoping that Peter had lied. “How do you get out of it?”

“Kill the enthraller.” She reads, “Or,” she frowns, a soft purse of her pink lips, “A lover’s gentle touch.”

“Aw, yeah,” says Jinx, muffled under the table. She slaps the booth seat with her tail. “Work it.”

Stiles scratches her chin and rolls his bottom lip between his teeth and says, “Seriously?”

“It says they touch their daemons and that their saliva makes them think they want it; like a drug. They start getting dependent.” She shrugs like she doesn’t know what else he wants from her.

Stiles hums. “Anything about where they’re likely to hide?"

"Somewhere remote," she says, picking daintily through the pages but finding nothing. "So people don't notice the missing daemon."

"Great, so anywhere,” he says, and gnaws his straw.

There are four pages of listed foreclosures on the local MLS website and that’s not counting any of the slouching, abandoned barns outside of town or the snow-bird vacation homes or any of the mold breeding warehouses in the industrial district. If there are thralls involved, the potential casting pool just flooded out into the greater Beacon Hills area.

“I mean they could get an insect case and just pretend,” Stiles adds.

A couple of his dad’s officers have bugs. They keep them in sturdy steel bullet cannisters around their necks or in the little hatch on the underside of their badges. All Stiles knows is that if Jinx was that small he’d never leave the house.

“Or a purse dog,” Jinx adds.

Lydia hums something noncommittal and then their food gets there. Stiles waggles bits of his linguini over Jinx’s face for her to gnaw on, which goes uncommented other than a huffy noise of disgust from Pascal preening his feathers on the backboard.

After a couple minutes, Stiles, a little desperate for conversation, tries, “You hear from Jackson?”

“No,” Lydia says promptly, and stabs a tomato hard enough with her fork to screech the tines against the porcelain. Pascal ruffles his feathers, agitated, but says nothing.

Bad move. “Sorry,” Stiles mutters.

“So is he,” she says, and they don't talk much after that until they're paying their checks, which is about as much time as it take for Stiles to screw up his flagging courage.

"Do you know why a daemon wouldn't talk to its human?" he asks, once he hands back the debit machine and the server disappears back into kitchen. Jinx bites down on his finger but doesn't say anything.

"Something big enough to break trust," she guesses. She collects her purse and holds her arm out for Pascal, who leaps the gap and shuffles up to her shoulder and lays his bright blue head on her curls, like a glimmering, exotic hair piece. "Big enough you couldn't come back from,” she says and then adds, “If Peter turns out to be behind this, give me a call. I'll help you bury the body and make it stick."

"Will do," he says, thinking.

found them, Derek texts him the next day. Stiles is wading his way through the third straight hour of Holmes on Homes, bored out of him mind watching a deck taking shape and wanting for something to do. He’s already stomping on his sneakers when the second text comes through with an intersection, and then a third that says, nvm dnt cm.

"Well fuck," he says.

There's no time to call Scott, so Stiles unhooks the flatbed, readies Jinx's backpack, hops in the Jeep and peals out of the driveway.

The GPS on his phone says he's heading off into the ether, but when he gets to the edge of the available map, there's a subdivision of fifteen or twenty houses in various stages of construction lining the street. A couple have lights on and most have sheets of weathering plastic stapled to the windows and the plywood with big blue trademark logos. There aren't any construction workers around. They might be out to lunch but one of the CAT bulldozers is still running, brake-lights lit, and there's a radio blasting the top 40s from one of the houses.

"What horror movie is this again?" Jinx asks, paws on the dashboard, belly a long, taut curve over the foot well, peering out the windshield.

"Besides all of them?" Stiles asks.

There's no sign of Derek. Stiles starts to think that this is a trap or he overreacted. That’s probably it. Derek jumps to conclusions, a lot, and it often wrong. He probably thought he found something and got excited and didn’t fact check and now Stiles is rushing off to reinforce the behavior. Then as he's driving past a yellow bungalow, mostly finished but with no house numbers, just a cardboard placard reading 87, the garage door smashes open and Derek flings himself through the hole. Behind him come two wild looking people dressed in dirty, whipping tatters, jumping after him.

Stiles honks, three quick taps of the horn, and yanks the wheel to the side of the road and throws himself across the cabin to shove the passenger door open. Derek is there as soon as the door clears the frame, and Asterope leaps in before him, scampering into the back seat before Stiles can properly get a look at her. Then Jinx scrambles into Stiles' lap and Derek slams the door, yelling, "Go! Go!" and braces himself on the dash as Stiles throws the Jeep into gear and bolts away.

The eaters give chase for a while, nearly as fast, or faster, than he's seen Derek or Scott run. They don't give up for almost five miles, only shrinking in the rearview once Stiles hits the highway and guns it.

"Jesus," he says, hands shaking on the wheel after ten minutes of a clear rear-view. He tries not to feel like he was almost run down by the Twilight gang, but it's hard. "Did you leave any evidence?" he asks. "Blood, fingerprints, your car?"

Derek ignores both that and Stiles' protest of, "Hey! Not dirty shoes on the upholstery," as he clambers over the seat and into the back so he can get to Asterope, frantic with a mindless kind of animal need. Asterope is panting, tongue lolling out of her mouth, and whines and then yelps, high and alarmed as Derek jostles her, put his hands on her. Even in the mirror Stiles can tell he’s shaking.

Stiles adjusts the mirror and spots two long claw marks dug into the meat of Asterope’s thigh, the pink, bloody muscle winking out from under all that glossy white fur. She leans into Derek's hands, her whole body sagging a little. Stiles doesn't know how Derek is moving at all—injuries on daemons always feel ten times worse than anything on a person.

“Eyes on the road,” Derek reminds him, and Stiles jerks back into the right lane from where he was drifting over the centerline. He’s going twenty over, and slows down just in time for a speed trap. "I followed them from the woods,” Derek continues absently, “No car."

"Good, that's—" Stiles says, and patters his fingers against the wheel. "One last thing to worry about."

"They were trying to—they were feeding," Derek says, voice quiet, like he doesn't want to talk about it. "I stopped them but—"

"Yeah?”

"The workers ran," Derek says, frustrated. "But their daemons looked like shit."

Brings the count up to ten, Stiles thinks, already seeing the harrowed look on his dad's face, getting the call once the hospital calls in, if they get that far, or the morgue, if they don't. "Do you need stuff for her," he asks instead, watching Asterope’s corner of the mirror. "We're like ten minutes out from Weaverville. There’s probably a Walgreen’s."

Asterope grunts and turns her head away into the cushions, and Derek says, "Do you have anything with you?” already looking in the small space behind the seat, moving aside Stiles’ lacrosse duffle.

"Yeah, there's a first aid kit back there somewhere. Can't remember what's in it," Stiles says.

Derek finds a bottle of hydrogen peroxide, a couple rolls of tensor bandages, a handful of free floating Spiderman finger band-aids, a flashlight, six double As, a battered tin of camo face paint, probably expired, dried up into little dusty chunks, and a box of condoms Stiles vaguely remembers buying somewhere around his birthday.

"What?" Stiles says, face hot, and guns it around a granny wagon doing thirty.

"I didn't say anything," Derek says, but the rearview catches the twitch of his dirty smirking mouth when he drops them on the ground. He fills up the cabin with the mucky acid-stink of peroxide as he soaks the bandages and presses them lightly to Asterope's flank. She snarls at the first touch, surprised and hurt, and then gives in and takes it, whining quietly.

Once they hit the city limits, Stiles pulls over into the parking lot of a McDonald's, shifts into park and turns around to look in the back. "So what’re we looking at?”

“New ones,” Derek says at once. “They don’t have a lot of control. It’s why there’s been so many bodies. They shouldn’t be killing them.”

“They've only gone after singles so far," he says, once Derek finally looks up at him and away from the mess of his daemon.

"I think they’re getting desperate," Derek admits; this is starting to sound a whole lot like the wolf plot line, newly turned and out of control.

“How often do they have to do this?” Stiles asks; feeling a little like he’s become stock of a grocery store.

Derek thinks for a minute, and then decides on, “Depends on how well they feed. Two weeks? Sooner now, I guess, since they didn’t fill up.”

"Peter tell you that?" Stiles says, and surprises himself with how harsh he sounds.

Derek catches his eyes and glares. "Yes," he snaps, daring.

"Shit, don't jump down my throat," Stiles says. "Excuse me, I just don’t think Gangrene the magic Wolfenstein is looking out for our best interests. This is probably a huge game to him. ‘Let’s let all the wee little wolfies run around and die a lot. Oh what fun. I’ll get a haircut.’”

“He hasn’t lied to us,” Derek says, shortly.

“Yeah, cause he has to lie to trick you,” Stiles says, and when Derek doesn’t have anything to say to that, he goes on, exasperated. “I just don't know why you don't know this already."

"Because I didn't need to know," Derek says, and all at once the angry flies out of his voice, replaced with a simple, weary drag; like he’s thought about this before, and he probably has, over and over and over. "And then there wasn't anyone to teach me."

"Right," Stiles say. Jinx is looking up at him very visibly thinking what the hell is wrong with you. He holds up his empty hands, shows his palms and then flops back around and watches a dad and three girls tumble across the parking lot playing with Avengers figurines and piling into a rusty maroon Honda. He sighs and digs his wallet out of his backpack. "Do you want a burger?"

"No," Derek says, snotty. Stiles gets him a kid's meal anyway, and sticks the Hulk toy that comes with it on the dashboard with a piece of gum.

His dad isn't home when they get back.

Stiles hooks the flatbed back up, and turns to Derek, who's helping Asterope out of the cabin. She looks pretty shitty so he says, "We have stuff for stitches inside."

He taps his fingers on his thighs and bounces on the balls of his feet and feels like he needs to take off his skin to get some extra breathing room, spine cramped. Then he remembers he forgot to take his medication, missed the tinny notification on his phone during the mad dash out of town, and scrubs his fingers over his scalp. "Gah! Are you coming in?" he says, and doesn't wait, just leaves the door unlocked as an invitation.

The suture kit is back behind a couple half full bottles of Listerine, blue and green a piece, and an old tube of moisturizer. The case is faded red and dusty. He grabs it and his pills and an old ruined towel his mom used to dye her hair with, and when he heads back downstairs, Derek and Asterope are sitting on the living room floor, dirty and bloody and out of place. Now that Derek's jacket is off, Stiles can see the puffy, feverish bite marks all along his forearms, defensive wounds like he had to use it to stopper up a jaw. They look like dental impressions, except for the enormous holes for the incisors.

"You okay?" he asks, feeling a little queasy. He hates holes in people, had vivid, smearing nightmares as a kid that he was going to tear them open on himself by accident and get sucked up. “They didn’t get a chance to feed, did they?

Derek shakes his head no. "It'll heal," he says, gruff, and makes a grabby, impatient hand gesture for the suture kit.

"Cause that's what I meant," Stiles says, and watches, grossed out but fascinated, as Derek sterilizes the needle with a pocket lighter, threads it, and then sets to work, hands quick and gentle even though his own thigh spasms whenever it pierces Asterope’s skin. Jinx stations herself near Asterope's pearly head and puts a paw on her shiny, black nose, flinches away when Asterope growls and then puts it back because she’s petty.

Jinx touches Hyacinth and Ophalia all the time, so Stiles is habituated to Scott, his dad, Melissa's Jethro, a little, knows what it means when the little place in his head that’s always aware of Jinx feels sharp or hot or slimy—soft. Derek feels like he’s burning a little, angry, maybe, or what Stiles thinks might be just a werewolf baseline. He didn't get this feeling at the diner, but it might have been too quick, contact there and gone. He kind of wants to ask, but Derek looks increasingly uncomfortable as Jinx leaves her paws on Asterope's muzzle like a shit disturber, shoulders stiff and hunched, avoiding looking at any of them.

Stiles pulls on Jinx’s tail a little, "Come on," and leaves Derek and Ash alone.

There's a note on the fridge stuck with a Wine improves with age, I improve with wine magnet. It reads in his dad’s drafting capitals that he’ll be be home late, there’s fish defrosting in the sink, don’t erase the game, and don’t stay up too late—see you in the morning, I love you. He microwaves some Hot Pockets and burns the roof of his mouth with nuked cheese eating one too fast, and by the time Derek is done sewing Asterope up, Stiles' medication has kicked in, and Jinx gets engrossed by the cartoons Stiles flips on.

"You can stick around for a bit," Stiles says, when Derek stands up, fingertips bloody. When Ash tries to follow, she stumbles and can’t put weight on her leg. Stiles isn’t going to kick a hurt daemon out of his house. "Why isn't she healing? Is this normal or—?"

"It’s the toxin from their claws, I think," he says and flashes Stiles the still nasty mess on his arm. "It'll be gone by tomorrow."

"Yeah?" Stiles says doubtfully.

"Yes," Derek insists, like it's a matter of pride. Asterope licks at Derek's fingertips, comforting, and he scratches behind her ear. You're messed up, Stiles thinks, and says, "There’s Hot Pockets in the freezer," and sits down with Jinx, turns up the volume on the TV, and an hour later resurfaces and sees Derek sitting quietly in the corner, reading one of his dad’s John Grisham novels on the floor.

“We have chairs,” Stiles points out, lolling pointedly off the arm of the coach. “This is a people house.”

Derek shrugs and doesn’t look up or say anything useful like thanks or chairs make me sexually uncomfortable. Asterope is asleep, packed against the wall and hidden by Derek’s thigh, tucked into a defensive ball—no one can sneak up on them, Stiles realizes, and leaves them to it.

Asterope can manage a tripping kind of hobble by ten, but not much more than that, so Stiles does the magnanimous thing and risks the camping closet in the garage to get a musty sleeping bag out from under a nest of tent poles and empty, sticky cans of Off.

"Just for tonight," he warns, and hands over the roll and a pillow and a blanket from the hall closet—a shirt to sleep in. "We ain't got room for no freeloaders."

Derek’s looks at him with a blank expression and then smirks and says, "I wouldn’t really want to stay long,” and when Stiles scowls in suspicion, adds, “Your room smells like spunk,” and disappears into the bathroom. Asterope chuffs out something like a laugh as she carefully lays herself down by the door.

"It does not!" Stiles horrified, because it probably does. Jinx laughs so hard she slips down a step and then another with a thudthudthud.

"Sure it doesn't," Derek says, muffled through the door, probably doing something gross to Stiles' toothbrush, he thinks meanly.

Stiles washed his sheets over the weekend. They still smell like Bounce, so he empties his trashcan and opens the window, debates aerosol, and then pretends he hasn’t done any of those things and ignores Derek's smug face when he gets back and unrolls the sleeping bag into the dark space between Stiles' bed and the wall; not immediately visible from the door or the window. He helps Asterope lie down on the blanket and the rolls over and apparently drops into right into sleep.

Stiles goes downstairs to put the fish back in the freezer and then falls into his desk chair and surfs soul eater search strings in Google for a while. He gets an IMDb anime page, three pages of streaming links, manga archives, an Amazon book listing, fan-art, a couple prickly looking videogame weapons, and then a short wiki stub that looks CP’d from the bestiary. The only new information is that they’re connected to were-creatures, and cause a wasting sickness, but nothing about daemons. He starts in on vampires but doesn't find out anything about that that the entertainment industry hasn't already exploited. After a while, Jinx starts prostrating across the keyboard in protest so he climbs into bed, and stares at the dark ceiling until he's about to go to sleep.

"Thanks," Derek murmurs, breaking the silence and scaring the shit out of Stiles. "For coming."

"Yeah well," Stiles says, clutching at his neck, pulse tripping over itself. "What else was I supposed to do?"

"Not come," Derek says, like it's simple, like that’s the conventional reaction here.

"Who does that?" Stiles says, mostly to himself.

"Everyone else," Derek says, and doesn't speak again. Stiles thinks that's sad, but doesn't know what to say that won’t sound like a platitude—pity. Derek doesn’t like pity.

He has a dream about a constellation coming to life and tugging all his skin off, and when he wakes up in the morning, lying diagonal on his bed from where he crashed, he's covered in a blanket that he's mostly positive he kicked off in the night, and Derek and Asterope are gone.

Naturally, the thing to do next is set up a trap. Derek managed to follow the eaters’ scent out into the woods and knows approximately where they’re hiding. Now all they need to do is draw them out.

"We spend too much time out here," Jinx observes, picking her way gingerly over a half buried bush of stinging nettle once they stash the Jeep at the old house and follow Scott and Derek and the misbegottens and Lydia out into the swarthy purple twilight of the forest.

"Yeah, well," Stiles says.

Erica has a swan named Ikkitax she unironically calls her lovely ugly duckling, and who waddles close and says, “Cheer up, fuzzy, they’ll go for the best of us first.”

“Good news for you then,” Jinx shoots back, snippy, and when Ikkitax tries to peck at her, she screams in his face. Asterope intercedes with a growl, and Ikkitax honks pettily and retreats to the French curve of Erica’s hand.

Erica and Isaac get to be bait, since Ikkitax can fly and Isaac’s nervy fennec can hide like she evaporates. Boyd has a sleek lioness that Jinx has had a gentle kind of envy on since eighth grade and they get to be the cavalry with Scott and Derek. Stiles and Lydia will stick to the outskirts until everything is over. Peter's fucked off somewhere, and no one's really all that broken up about it.

"What?" Stiles says, at the odd look Derek gives him.

"I was expecting more of a fight,” he admits.

"No shit am I fighting daemon eaters," Stiles says, but he waggles one Lydia's homemade Molotovs at him, before remembering that’s probably rude. "We'll set them on fire though, if you get tired or need a nap."

Pascal is sitting high on Lydia's shoulder, neck craned and watching for movement while the wolves dart off to make themselves more appealing, and when Jinx nudges up against Stiles’ shin, bored and anxious, and grumbles, "I could've taken 'em," Pascal trills a scoffing kind of noise, voice sharp like his beak, like the crisp lines of his dewy tail eyes.

“You have something to say?” Jinx demands, looking up at him.

He throws his head back. "You would've been the first down."

"Oh, shut up," Jinx says, and when Stiles reaches to put a hand on her muzzle, she nips at his fingers, says, "Stop doing that," and snaps at Pascal, "Hey bird brain, get plucked."

"Sea rat," he caws back, "go back to your mud pit."

"How about you both shut up and don’t give us away?" Lydia says, casual like she's talking about her suede boots, the sensible flat soles. The daemons subside, back into their corners, petulant but silent.

“You showed him,” Stiles mutters and rolls his eyes.

“Yes, I did,” Jinx says, vicious.

Jinx doesn't like flying daemons, or flying at all, gets frustrated and panicky if she's too high off the ground for too long and fusses on planes. Before she settled, she was always something like a cat or a dog or a komodo dragon, when she could get away with it, monkeys a lot of the time. Hedgehogs and mice, squirrels who didn't climb trees. It should have been a sign, really, but Stiles had hoped he'd be good enough for so long that his only real thought on it was she'll like him if she gets to know him.

One o'clock comes and goes and leaves Stiles sleepy and cold and miserable, arms strung up in Jinx's backpack, on backwards, so he can curl around the lump of her, asleep.

He’s dreaming about burritos when Lydia hisses, "Wake up," and shoves him.

“What?” He says, falls sideways and catches himself, “What? Is it over? Did we miss it?”

She gives him a sideways judgy look, says, “No,” which is when he hears a tingling shriek he recognizes as enemy and then howling and a sick, wet reverberating crack of a bone breaking from up over the hill.

They stand quietly for five minutes, ten, listening intently as the noises move away through the wood, become muffled and distant. This is why he never wants to sit out. The anticipation always feels worse than wading right in the middle of it. There’s a brief minute of total silence which they both think that’s the end of it, and then Scott screams from somewhere far away, "Stiles!" and one of the eaters hurdles through the trees, ten feet tall and brutally skeletal, legs that look like they have too many knee joints, or are just broken.

They didn’t look like that at the construction site—in the rearview mirror; he either hadn’t gotten a good look or maybe they change, like the wolves. Its eyes are sunken into bruised-peach hollows, wild and feral, and the way it goes after Pascal is frightening, slavering in thick ropey cords down its chin, and glass-splinter teeth. It has four yawning claw marks down its ribs.

It goes for Lydia first and she screams and throws her Molotov, which glances off its side and shatters on the ground and catches on twigs and leaves and crackly bits of bracken with waxy looking fire. Pascal jumps straight up into the air like gravity doesn't work, gets into the canopy and out of reach, and Lydia takes off. With that target gone, it turns on Stiles, slows to a stop and then starts shuffling toward him. Its legs are definitely broken but it doesn’t seem to notice or care.

“How far away are they?” Jinx whispers as Stiles shuffles backwards and trips a little on a branch and course corrects into a tree by accident. He readjusts his grip on Jinx. He can buy Lydia time.

“No clue,” Stiles says, yells, “Assistance? Hello! Fuck, so hey, you’re looking—awful.” He needs a rock or something. His fist is sweaty on the neck of the Molotov bottle, but it’s not close enough to throw yet, he needs to be sure. He stumbles back another step. “Dude you’re going kinda hardcore on the fad-diets. Might wanna think up a new regime. You know? Solids, maybe. Not me.”

"Let me touch it," it says, voice rattling, wheezing like its lungs are too small, reaching for him with a hoary, winter-twig sprawl of claws—coaxing. It smells like road kill and its teeth are getting longer, poking down through holes in its lip. "Just a little, just a taste. It’s so pretty—I’ll only take a little—little bit. Give a little bit."

"Uh, no,” Stiles says. “Wow, do you actually think that’ll work?”

“Yes,” it says plainly. It had a placid almost curious expression before, but now it slants into a hungry kind of anger and its eyes film over with slick, dripping red, the whole ball. “I’m not giving you a choice.”

“Oh, well, then,” Stiles says.

“Why aren’t you running?” Jinx hisses.

“Fear mostly,” he admits, takes a deep breath, winds up, screams, “Hey, entourage!” and throws his Molotov, which catches on the eater’s shoulder at least, but doesn't seem to slow it down, even as the fire fwooms over its disjointed limbs.

It screams, and leaps.

Stiles ducks under its outstretched arms and books it, hunches down. This has been an enormously shitty plan. Derek doesn’t get to make any more plans, he thinks, and then feels the wind displace above his head, feels a sharp sting on the back of his scalp that he ignores.

“Go!” Jinx screams. “Go, go, go!”

“I’m going!”

“Go faster!”

There’s a retched glass grinding shriek from somewhere over his left shoulder and he makes it ten, fifteen steps before he trips, legs gone nerveless like he's hit a funny bone all over; God it’s the fucking Kanima all over again, why do all these things have this power? He rockets forward onto his face, barely missing crushing Jinx, who gets thrown out of the backpack and tumbles through the bracken onto her belly. He flops his arm out but suddenly can’t do more than dig his fingers into the ground. He can feel something running across the back of his head and over the curve of his ear and down his cheek, dribbling on the ground.

"Run!" he screams.

There’s this sick feeling of toxin sapping all the strength out of him. Jinx tries. She scampers to the outer limits of their range and then past it and then into the choking, whole-body territory of pain that makes it impossible to make breakfast while she’s sleeping or be on the track team, and it makes him convulse, yell, "Scott!" and claw limply at the ground.

He has just enough time to see Cinth come barreling over the hill, roaring like a dragon and batting the eater away like it's made of cotton, Asterope right after her, snatching Jinx up in her jaws and bolting, before he the pain makes him pass out.

He wakes up in the Jeep a couple hours later. His phones says it’s four thirty. He's dirty and his hands are cut up from the fall and he threw up on himself at some point while unconscious and smells gross and feels sticky, but he's so happy to see Jinx safe and curled up by his head that he doesn't care.

Folding his arms around her he whispers, “Hey.”

“You’re an assbag,” she says and yawns in his face and paws at his nose. She’s mostly calm, “what’s with this no running business?”

“Lazy, I guess,” he says. "Holy shit," and clutches at her, and says. "You smell like wet dog."

"Yeah, yeah, barfy, come at me," she says, and sobs a little.

It takes them a while to get out of the Jeep. Stiles can’t stop trembling, some kind of deep muscle tremor that hurts, so he knows he'll have to get Scott to drive them home. Jinx finds a clean patch of shirt to suck on and chew like she did to all of Stiles' blankets as a kid.

Derek and Scott are the only ones left after Stiles assesses that yes, his legs work, no, I’m not taking my shirt off, no, I don’t care if I smell, it’s cold, I don’t want the rocket nipps, you have them anyway, that’s not the point. Derek doesn’t have a shirt on and Scott’s sporting ripped up chic, the both of them bloody and dirty, but they don’t look in pain, healing slowly. Scott has his arm wrapped around Cinth, cuddling into her fur, and Derek is rubbing his thumb along Asterope’s ear. As soon as Stiles falls out of the Jeep, they zero in on him. They’re both freaked out, Stiles realizes. He’s expecting it from Scott, who’s easy in his feelings, but it’s a surprise from Derek.

Judging by the looks on their faces, they’re waiting to gauge Stiles’ reaction before they do anything. Stiles, suffering from that creeping feeling of peer pressure, says, awkward, “Well that was anticlimactic,” and rubs the back of his head.

It hurts. When he pulls his hand back and looks at it, there are flakes of brown blood on his fingertips.

"They're dead," Derek assures him, once he sees Stiles starts looking around.

"Well I wasn't looking to recruit them for my boy band," Stiles says, not really knowing what else to comment on. Of course they're dead, that was the whole point. “Where’d you stash the bodies?”

“We took care of it,” Derek says. “Don’t worry about it.”

"I’m getting kinda concerned about how easy it is to do crime," Stiles says, and sighs. "Is everyone okay?"

"Yeah," Scott says. Stiles must smell pretty bad, because he doesn't come and give Stiles a hug like he very clearly wants to. "It was just you."

"Awesome," Stiles says, embarrassed and feeling it in his face. He can still smell burning skin. This is the second human shaped thing he's set on fire this year. "Can we go home now?"

Derek ends up driving, since Stiles can't, and they have to drop Scott and Cinth off first. In the driveway, Derek says, "Can you get in by yourself?" and when Stiles nods, he and Asterope hop out of the cabin, give Stiles his keys back, and start walking away from the house.

"Hey," Stiles says. "Where do you live anyway?"

Don’t say woods, he thinks.

Derek hesitates and then says, "Willowbrook,” and limps a little from a wound he’s been hiding.

"Willowbrook?" Stiles says, incredulous. “That’s on the other side of town!”

"So?"

Stiles makes a wide sweeping gesture with his arm and then feels silly and stuffs his hands in his pockets.

"I haven't put the sleeping bag away," Stiles says, before he thinks about it, and then shrugs and feels his face get hot. His dad is home, hopefully asleep, and they all probably smell bad enough to warrant Ophalia's suspicion. But Asterope saved Jinx, and it's the least he could do.

Derek is quiet for a while, but Asterope betrays an actual preference by whining at him, something soft and low in her throat, tired.

"Yeah, okay," he says, reluctant, like he's doing them a favor.

“You don’t have to be so excited or anything,” Stiles mutters.

“Okay,” Derek says.

“Or say thank you,” Stiles adds, walking up the porch and digging his keys into the lock.

“If you say so,” Derek says serenely.

Inside, Stiles gives Derek iodine for his leg, brushes his teeth and washes the back of his head under the kitchen sink and puts all his barfed-on clothes straight into the washing machine, drinks like half a carton of orange-juice before he remembers the aftertaste. He thinks he’s going to barf again, but doesn’t. Stiles too tired to clean Jinx up, so he just lays a towel down on the bed so she doesn't get the sheets gross. Derek is already on the ground, facing the wall and for all appearances asleep. Asterope's not, watches them with quiet intensity as Stiles lumbers around the room, aimless and jacked up and so tired he thinks his eyeballs might fall out.

When the crash finally hits, he falls on his bed like a tossed doll and doesn't wake up for twelve hours. He does stumble out of bed once to go to the bathroom, around eight, but after that, the next time he opens his eyes it's late afternoon, and his dad is knocking at the door.

"Stiles buddy," he says, "Have you been sleeping all day?"

"No," he says, reflexive into the pillowcase he's been drooling on, "Just resting my eyes." Then he remembers his wayward guests and shoots upright and knocks Jinx clean off the bed.

"What's the big deal?" She yells at him, startled awake and grouchy as she lands on the bed with a thump. She climbs back up the step stool to the mattress and gives him a dirty look. Stiles flails around, wide-eyed, but Derek's gone, and the sleeping bag and blanket are stuffed back into its bag and neatly folded, respectively, in the corner.

"What?" he dad says, suspicious.

"I—" Stiles says. "I thought I was late for school," he says, as he rubs the crusty gunk out of his eyes. "I was having this dream and everything was on fire except for Mr. Harris' lab and he wouldn’t let me leave. Kept saying, ‘What’s the square root of fish, Mr. Stilinski.’ He doesn’t even teach math."

“Sounds exciting,” Dad laughs, says, "Not for a couple more weeks yet," and then grows solemn, his craggy frown making a comeback. "Were you out drinking last night?" he asks, holding up Stiles' shirt from last night, which has dried nearly solid in places, smeared with dirt and very obviously not something he did at home.

There are two ways to answer this and both lead to disappointment, so he says, "Sorry," and looks down at his hands.

"Stiles," Dad says, stops and takes a deep breath. "If you want to drink, you talk to me, and we'll work something out at home. I need to know where you are, okay? I need to know where you are all the time. This is—so important. I didn't even hear you leave last night."

"Sorry," he says again, and his dad just sighs, says, "Go grab a shower, you smell like a ogre," and leaves.

He showers fast, fills up the bottom of the tub to scrub Jinx down, throws on some clean pajamas, and heads down to the kitchen. His dad has a plate of hamburgers set out by the stove covered in tin foil, a bag of soft Co-op buns, a plastic bin of coleslaw, McCain's ruffled fries. Stiles doesn't have an appetite, but he makes up a plate and heads to the living room. They eat in silence and watch the game, and his dad throws his arm around Stiles' shoulders, and they sit like that for a while.

"What happened to your head?" Dad asks, craning to look at the back of Stiles' skull.

"I fell on a rock," Stiles says, and doesn't reach up to touch it, but wants to.

"Looks pretty deep," Dad says, "Too late for stitches though." He looks in Stiles' eyes, to check if they're tracking or something. "Did you drive home?" his voice is carefully neutral, but his arm is tight around Stiles' shoulders.

"No, I got a friend of mine—" Stiles says. "He drove me and caught a cab. He wasn't drinking."

"Do I get to meet this friend?" he asks. Stiles wonders if he's already called Melissa, gotten a lie from her.

Stiles turns to look at the TV. The Giants are down one, bottom of the seventh, two out. They can come back from it. "Am I grounded?" Stiles asks. Jinx is lying on her back, tight next to his thigh, doesn’t move, eyes carefully closed, belly sticking out for Stiles to cover with his hand.

"I haven't decided yet," Dad says and sighs like he knows he's not getting anything else out of him. "I don't know if it would work anyway."

Allison comes over a couple days later, hands stuffed in the pockets of her hoody. Niels is pawing anxiously at the grass with a hoof, his wicked looking horns glossy in the sun. She looks lost, and a bit of a mess, hair frizzy, pulled back out of her face in a messy plait.

"Are they—is he okay?" she asks, demands. She’s projecting discomfort so hard Jinx flees back into the house.

"He's fine," Stiles says. "Couple of scrapes. He misses you."

"Don't," she snaps. "Just—"

"Sorry," he says uncomfortably. They stand there, awkward in the silence. He thinks this would be easier if Scott had grown to love her out of familiarity first, if they'd had that bedrock of friendship to stand on so they weren't left so stranded.

"Okay," she says, after a while. "Okay," and hesitates.

Stiles says, "If you ever need anyone to talk to anyone about—your mom," he shrugs, not sure if he really wants to offer that. "Well."

"There's not much to talk about," Allison says, snaps a little, looks heartbroken and angry and miserable. "She killed herself."

"Yeah, so did mine," Stiles says impatiently.

That cuts her right off. "What?" Allison says, shocked, and he forgets, sometimes, that there are people who weren't around for it, whose whole lives didn't revolve around the sucking whirlpool of the hospital and the deterioration, who didn't care or only enough to offer up pity or casseroles.

He looks past her shoulder, out at the yellow hydrant, past it into Miz Rensford's gardens, the hydrangeas, the rangy goat's hoof, the copse of dandelions eking out an existence back behind a tree in a corner she can't reach.

"She had paranoid schizophrenia. She thought that all her food had been poisoned,” Stiles says, remembering it. “She wouldn't eat anything, no matter what we said or how we made it or showed her where we got it.”

It’s not your fault, she used to tell him, staring the garbage disposal like it held secrets. I know you’re not doing it on purpose, while Myno talked to swirling dust motes and weeds in the garden and never when anyone else was around. Couldn’t. That was the first indicator.

He didn’t tell his dad, because if he loved her he wouldn’t.

“What happened?” Allison whispers.

Stiles shoves his thumb into the hole of the strike plate. “You can’t civilly commit someone unless they’re a danger to themselves or others. She was—getting better. We thought she was just depressed. But then she stopped taking her medication and hid it from us and—” he stops, takes a breath and continues, “—well she got worse. She was really smart about it you know? If you say it’s a religious fasting thing, the police can’t do anything about it. So yeah,” he says. “I fucking know what you're going through."

"I didn't know, I thought—I don’t know what I thought." Allison says, voice thick, eyes glossy, which is surprising, he'd thought Scott would have told her everything. "Scott said she was sick. I'm sorry."

"Me too," Stiles says, shuffles a little on his feet, feeling tired like he always does, talking about it. It shouldn’t still feel like he’s run a marathon and can’t catch his breath. "Want a coke?"

She scrubs at her face. "Yeah," she says.

They watch Blade Runner and then Bridesmaids, and Niels lets Jinx touch his horns and they whisper together for a while, talking about Cinth, he thinks, hearing her name once or twice. Niels looks hungry and intent, a little desperate and a lot like he's tensed to spring. Stiles heard impalas could jump two, three times their height, and worries a little for the ceiling. Allison cries a couple times; silent, stubborn, angry tears that she wipes away like they're offensive.

"I don't know how to make it better," she admits, choking a little and trying to laugh like maybe if she turns it into a joke it won't be so bad. It sounds like a sob.

"Apologize, I guess," Stiles says. "I’d start with that. Maybe let Erica punch you. It might not work though. You might have to live with that."

"I did some really awful things," she says.

"Basement torture isn't easy to come back from," Stiles agrees, and she flinches from it, then hardens, getting a bit of that warrior spine back.

"They told you?" she asks.

Stiles is quiet for a while, swilling the last bit of coke in the can, the backwash, hoping Gerard is dead, wondering how much she knows.

"No," he says, looks at her and then leaves her alone to chew on it. He throws the empty bag of chips in the trash, pulls a little on his range so Jinx can stay and sit with Niels.

When he comes back he says, "I set a monster on fire." It's not really relative at all, but it makes him wonder what kind of person he's becoming. "It's turning into a thing for me. I'm a little worried about it."

"You could apologize," she says, a wan smile perking up on her face as she slips on her coat. "But you might have to live with it."

"Well damn," he says, and walks her to the door.

"Bye, Stiles," she says, hesitates with one foot on the stairs, the other on the walkway, runs an anxious hand down Niels' neck, smoothing his bay coat. "I might—take you up. On your offer. Later."

"Sure," he says. "Bye, Allison."

The following two weeks are quiet and uneventful, which should be telling, if he’s honest—suspicious. And then Dad comes home on a Thursday, smelling like a campfire and gasoline.

"You know Derek Hale?" he asks, Ophalia shaking out her pelt on the mat.

"What?" Stiles says, sitting perfectly still, staring at his laptop. This is possibly a trap.

"His condo burned down," Dad explains, shrugging out of his uniform jacket like he doesn't want it touching him anymore.

"I—Seriously?" Stiles says, and looks up, stunned. “Arson?”

“Don’t know,” Dad admits, “Looks accidental. Gas leak,” he clarifies.

"Is he okay?" Stiles says, carefully disinterested, casual.

Dad gives him a look like he knows something's up, but only says, "As okay as he can be, I'd guess," and heads to the kitchen.

Dad watches him like a hawk for two days, waiting to see what he’ll do. It gives Stiles plenty of time to mull over an empty new-text bubble and decide how he wants to handle this.

"We could go to Goodwill," Jinx says, Saturday night, and demands, "What?" when he turns and stares at her. "It's getting cold out," she adds, bristling.

When people see Jinx, they think Stiles is a clown. They think: she's an otter, she's playful, she's adorable, they want her to do tricks, hold hands with other daemons. They don’t take them seriously, a lot of the time.

But. Jinx is all the most concentrated parts of Stiles, mean and rude and short with him and others, pushy and obsessive, doesn't suffer idiots and tells them about it. She's confrontational and it makes people uncomfortable. Daemons don’t talk to people, not really, but Jinx hates being silenced, and silent. There’s an expectation of cute daemons, to be nice, to be friendly and accommodating. Jinx isn’t often any of those things, and they both wish sometimes that she was bigger. She mostly wants to bite their fingers off.

"It's August," Stiles points out, but they head out anyway, and then drive to the old Hale house with a bag of soft, worn-in plaid (it's hilarious) and some obnoxious Hawaiian tourist shirts he's sure will get thrown out or destroyed, and some sweatpants. Derek and Asterope are sitting out on the porch when they get there, not looking all that out of place, if Stiles is being honest.

Derek doesn't look as devastated as Stiles kind of imagined he'd be were he in the same situation, just weary and tired and a little out of it. Stiles wonders if you just don't get up off the ground after a while, if you wait for the next hit on your belly so there isn't so much of a fall, if you start to expect it.

"Is that my shirt?" Stiles asks, when they get out of the Jeep, recognizing the color tight over Derek’s shoulders. He'd forgotten he'd loaned out. Derek looks down at his chest and grimaces, rubs the back of his neck.

"It was the only thing in my car," Derek says, hunching his shoulders, defensive, "I was going to give it back."

Stiles sees the way the sleeves cut into the muscles in his biceps, straining even at rest, how the silkscreen print is cracking and warped. He thinks he doesn't want the inferiority complex, so he says, "Keep it," and throws the Goodwill purchases at Derek’s feet.

"What's this?" Derek asks, lifting the bag to Asterope for her to sniff.

"An improvement!" Jinx says, gleeful, like she's been holding it back all day, and then falls onto her back laughing, which is when a thought occurs to Stiles.

"Was this a coincidence?" he gestures at the trees, trying to think of the approximate gesture that encompasses all the shit that happens here.

Derek, who'd been making disgusted faces at the Hawaiian prints (which are exactly as hilarious as they thought it would be) and picking them gingerly out of the bag to drop on the ground, looks up at Stiles. His mouth twists into a scowl and something uncertain. "I doubt it."

"Is there like, I don't know, some kind of alpha soul eater we need to stake?" He says it, kidding mostly, but Derek just cracks his neck and doesn't say no.

“Oh, fuck, seriously?”

"I couldn't smell anyone besides those two in their hideout," Derek admits. "But I couldn't find any other deaths in the other counties, and they couldn't have travelled very far without feeding."

Stiles would feel bad about pressing the issue, but if this is a vengeance thing, Stiles' house could be next.

"So you think they were made here," Stiles says, "And what? Mama monster hasn't had any late-night snacks in the last few years?"

"The older ones aren't as sloppy," Derek says. "They make dens and drug up their thralls so if they die they can blame it on that."

"Sounds like a bunch of winners," Stiles says, frustrated, and locks his fingers together behind his neck, part of him wondering if he can't just convince his dad that they need to move, get away.

"It’s more like a cult," Derek says, reasonably, and smirks a little, strained at the edges.

"Oh my god," Stiles says, wheels around on one heel and leaves.

When they get to the bottom of the hill, Stiles brakes and idles at the turnoff. Derek can probably still hear the engine ticking.

"What?" Jinx says, as he looks at his phone, the number he hasn't stored yet, all incoming texts, one sided. "Are you doing something stupid?" and clambers up to his side to watch as he taps out a message.

"Probably," he says, and hits send before he can chicken out of it.

Jinx is silent for a while, once he shifts back into gear, starts driving. "You spelled sleeping bag wrong," she says at last.

"Sure," he says.

A week later, he gets a text back, offer still open?

By that point, Stiles had mostly convinced himself that Derek had lost his phone again and he’d suffer no ill consequences from his brief bout of psychosis, so he nearly drops his phone into the garbage disposal with the rest of the rice he burned for supper, shocked.

My dad has a night shift, he types back, mechanical. Around 8?

sure, he gets back.

"Derek's coming over," he tells Jinx, back in the living room.

“Shh, don’t talk to me,” she says. She’s hunched over playing Fruit Ninja on his dad’s tablet; it’s one of the few she can play that caters to her level of dexterity and finger mobility—toe mobility?

“Just hit pause,” he says. “It’s right there in the corner.” He waggles his finger at it. “Here look I can press it for you—”

“I will piss on your laptop!” she threatens.

“Daemons don’t do that,” Stiles protests, but flees, wary into the kitchen, stymied. He grabs a coke and then turns on the radio and leans against the counter and looks outside at the trees. They look like trees. There’s mail on the counter but nothing for him, just bills and flyers, Men’s Health, and a thick visa renewal packet from the bank.

Then, bored, won’t be ignored, time won’t heal the damage no more, he tramps back into the living room and over the sharp rap of, “No!—”, collapses onto the couch. It sets off a chain reaction. Jinx is bounced into the air like a see-saw and when she lands, her paw skitters across the screen and swipes a bomb by accident. There’s an exploding noise, and when she looks up at him then, it’s with a great deal of rage. Then she she’s up on her haunches, front legs held tight to her little chest, like a raptor, and with a screech, rushes at him to gnaw off a finger.

He wants to laugh, but he’s freaking out a little. Actually, he does laugh, because it’s funny, and says, “Whoops, wow, how did that happen? Be more careful next time,” because he’ll never be anyone but himself. He then adds, hesitant, “So hey, the beast with two backs is coming over—That wasn’t the right metaphor I was looking for but I’ll go with it, thoughts?”

“Not your best,” she admits, and then eyes him warily over the curve of his knuckles. “Why?”

"Because we have a shower and a floor and he lives out in the woods and does not have either of these thing?" he says, reasonably.

“Yeah?” she says snippily “No floors in the woods? No ground?”

“No carpeted ones,” Stiles says, and wiggles his socked toes into the ground. “This is a quality shag.”

"You need quality shag. Maybe Derek would let you kiss him," she mutters, and turns back to her game, done with him. "Whatever."

He purses his lips at her.

"I like Asterope," she says, after a minute, which is shocking to say the least.

"Since when?" he asks. "She doesn't even talk to you! That was a whole thing, I remember—wah wah wah tell a joke."

"Yeah, she can't tell me to shut up and she overreacts to everything," she says. "She's what I imagine getting a real dog would be like.” Her paw hovers over the restart button and she looks up at him, considering. “Do you think she’d fetch?”

Stiles wonders if other people have trouble understanding their daemons, or if it’s just him. Ultimately he gives it up as a bad job and flips the channel to America’s Funniest Home Videos, which has the added benefit of being a time suck and also mind numbing.

"You look—" Stiles starts, squinting out the door into the dark press of nightfall, after his dad is gone and Derek shows up, a small bag tossed over his shoulder and a filthy daemon at his heels. "Gross, actually—have you been rolling around in the mud?" He smells bad too, and his eyes are bloodshot, which Stiles didn't know could happen to werewolves. He thought they always looked fresh, like daisies. Asterope’s gross too, a rangy wet dog smell, caked dirt and twigs matted in her fur—

"Cheaper than the spa," Derek agrees, bland, and then shifts his weight, one hip to the other. It cuts all the tension out of Stiles; he’s weirded out about this too.

He rolls his eyes and steps aside and lets Derek brush past him. He keeps forgetting that Derek is funny, sometimes. "Well you know where to go. Clean out the drain when you're done!" he yells, once Derek and Asterope have disappeared up the stairs. He checks the street before he closes the door, but the Camaro isn’t there.

In the kitchen, he throws in an oven ready pizza from the farmer’s market, and then goes and queues up a movie, then feels like he’s turning this into a date, and switches the channel to Ace of Cakes and watches that for a while. He can hear the shower going when he mutes the commercials, and is kind of hit with the sudden, shivery thought that Derek is naked in his house and he'll probably use a towel that's touched Stiles. Ten minutes of consideration can’t tell him if that’s hot or gross, so he elects to ignore it.

Derek smells like Stiles' body wash when he appears in the doorway to the living room, a clingy waft of it that he would have guessed to be overwhelming, hair damp and curling against his forehead the back of his neck. He’s in a mostly clean pair of pants and a fresh out of the package tank top, creases in the cotton, and says, "Do you have a—" and makes a vague gesture with his hands.

"Oh, yeah,” Stiles says, and puts his hands together, “Turtle,” he clarifies at Derek’s blank stare, and wiggles his thumbs like flippers or whatever they hell they have, and when Derek's eyes narrow, he says blithely, “What I thought we were playing the random-hand-signs-I-can’t-read-your-mind game. I’m pretty good at it—look.” he twists his hands and makes a clucking sound with his tongue. “Guess.”

"A blow-dryer," Derek says with a tight, snotty smile.

“No, it was a horse. Good try though,” and cranes his neck. He can vaguely see Asterope huddling at the top of the stairs, skinny and wet. A second later, Jinx walks out of the kitchen, catches sight of her and falls down in shock. She starts in on the racking laughter when Asterope growls at her.

"It’s in the closet," Stiles says, sucking his lips into his mouth and gesturing with his chin. It’s funny pinpointing the exact moment Derek come to the visible conclusion that he hates everyone in natural existence.

“There’s a straightener in there too, if you want,” he shouts once Derek’s stomps back to the bathroom, the cord knitted around his fist. It sets Jinx off again, but doesn’t get a peep out of Derek.

He slams the door.

"Hey!" Stiles says, and Jinx finishes for him, up on her paws and bristling, "Not your house!"

They're in there for almost an hour. At a quarter to ten, sick of looking at cake he can't have and frosting he can’t have and a job he can’t have, Stiles shuts off the TV, grabs another slice of pizza, cold now and greasy, and then one for Derek, and wanders up to watch the progress. It's strangely relaxing, watching Derek comb his fingers through Asterope's fur and dry it out—practiced. Stiles wonders how often they do this, if he had his own basket for her under the sink, with special metal combs and stiff bristled brushes and shampoos from the pet store, if it’s a ritual they share because there isn’t any other daemon around to help Asterope out.

“So why doesn’t she talk?” he asks abruptly.

Derek doesn’t answer for a long time. He turns off the dryer, unplugs it and wraps the cord around the handle. He sweeps up the stray bits of fur with his foot and throws it in the garbage. Stiles figures he isn’t going to and then, “She tried to tell me something once. It was—important,” It’s soft, stilted, understated mostly; in another conversation he’d be talking about raking the leaves, the headlines. "She doesn’t trust me enough to listen anymore.”

"Oh." Stiles can’t imagine not talking to Jinx; they learned all their first words together (“No,” and, “Mine,” and, “Penis”—Jinx, that was her, totally her). No wonder Derek’s so screwed up. It’s safe and easy for Stiles. Jinx knows him better than anyone; there’s never any judgment. He can say—well, anything really. He’s reminded of Scott, He doesn’t tell us anything. Well now he knows; Derek can’t even talk to himself.

Derek is very clearly waiting for him to ask something he shouldn’t. His whole face is closed down, shuttered, braced for it and miserable with open secrets. Stiles can only think of one thing that huge, that massively horrible, and doesn’t have the courage to ask so, bucking that, all Stiles says is, "That sucks, pizza?" and holds out his plate. He knows when not too push, sometimes.

"Thanks." Derek takes it after a minute of hesitation, when his belly growls. At their feet, Asterope gets frustrated with whatever the shit Jinx is doing. She leaps at her. Jinx shrieks and takes off, between Stiles’ legs, but she's slow and Asterope catches her on the landing, flips her over and sits on her belly, watches her squiggle, tongue lolling out of her mouth over Jinx’s head, teeth bared, not quite wagging her tail but close.

"Stiles," Jinx screams in outrage. "Stiles help! She's going to drool on me! Stiles—fuck you, you're so gross."

"Get out of your own messes, dude," he says, laughing a little, although his chest does feel a little compressed. When he turns back Derek is staring at him, quiet, oddly intense.

"Ash," Derek says, after a minute, once Jinx's yowling starts to grate; he doesn’t look away from Stiles' face. Ash gets off at once and trots into Stiles' room without a backward glance, regal as anything.

Face hot, Stiles licks his lips and hauls Jinx up off the floor and out of her martyred wailing. He stuffs her under his arm and goes downstairs to put the pizza away, fills the sink to soak the pan. She chews on his arms in revenge, but not that hard, and when he looks up next, Derek is hovering at the bottom of the stairs when Stiles turns around, collapsing the pizza box, looking awkward in his too long jeans and bare feet, curled in toes.

"Do you have a washing machine?" He holds up his bag.

"First door on the left," Stiles nods to the hall, watches him go, heart pounding in his ears.

Keeping with tradition, Derek and Asterope are gone in the morning. There's a shirt neatly folded on his desk, a replacement for the one Derek borrowed and stretched out. He shoves it on out of a vague sense of contrariness, and after his head clears the neck hole, he spots Ophalia sitting just outside his room.

"Oh, hey," Stiles says. Jinx is still asleep, wound up in a blanket and drooling. "What's up?" He thinks his dad is still asleep, too.

She gets right to it. "You should tell your dad who was over last night," she says, sounding incredibly disappointed in him. "I know what Derek Hale smells like."

"We didn't do anything," Stiles says at once. She's almost a better lie detector than werewolves, so he doesn’t bother denying it. "We aren't—he just needed a place to stay for the night."

"I know," she says, "That's why I haven't told him myself."

Stiles looks around the room, but there’s nothing interesting to stare at that’ll make her give up and go away. "I don't want to tell him,” he says and then winces. That’s practically a confession.

"I don't want to lie," she says, as if it's that simple.

"It's not lying," Stiles insists, gesturing wildly, his hands up orbiting his head, "It's just not telling."

"It's lying by omission," she says, as much of a police officer as his dad, "And I haven't told him about the other times because I thought you'd tell him yourself.” She lets that sink in. His face feels hot and ashamed. “If he comes over again, that's it."

"Fine," Stiles says, crossing his arms.

She turns to go, but stops and glances back over her big English shoulder. "He hates it when you keep secrets from him."

Of all the secrets Stiles is keeping, all the lies and the dangerous shit he gets into, pizza with Derek doesn’t even register on the spectrum, so he says, "He's not going to hurt me.”

Maybe if everyone stopped assuming that Derek was a monster, he'd stop trying to prove them right.

Ophalia is quiet for a while. "I don't think you mean that in the way he worries about," and before he can come up with something to say to that, she trots off.

"You can't come over anymore," Stiles says, a couple hours later, stepping around the tetanus cactus of Derek's rickety porch to where Derek is leaning on the door frame, irritated about it, and then wondering why it matters so much. He tries to label it as teenaged rebellion, but even the self-denial hears the lie in it.

"Oh," Derek says.

"My dad—"Derek gets a pinched look on his face, and Stiles hurries to say, "His daemon! His daemon! She knows you've been over," he gestures at the sky, like what can you do. "Said she'll tell him if you come over again."

"Oh," he says again, looking marginally less like he's about to run off into the wilderness and never look back. "Okay."

"Okay?" Stiles says, derailed.

"They're just trying to look out for you," Derek says.

Adults are so obnoxious, he thinks and demands, "Looking out for what? Are you gonna hit me? Beat me up? Bite me against my will?"

"Is that what you think?" Derek says quick—hurt sounding.

"No, dumbass, that’s the whole point." Jinx is making quiet pleading noise at him from his feet, pushing against his shins, but he just steps over her, gets up in Derek's face. “I think you get your way out of situations that scare you by acting like you're violent."

"I am violent," Derek says. "I’ve hurt you before," he says, quiet, guilty. He looks down at the porch and knuckles Asterope’s shoulder.

"Oh my god!" Stiles yells; they’ve totally flown over the point. "I used you like a fucking stripper!”

"That's not an excuse," Derek says firmly; he sounds like this is practiced. "You shouldn't rationalize it. "

"I know that," Stiles says, slow. He splays his fingers, hooks them in his belt loops. Derek’s frowning; he doesn’t believe him. "I do!” he shouts. “I do! Give me some credit. I am very capable of recognizing—hey that’s a shitty thing. What you did was a shitty thing. What I did was shitty thing. Lots of things are shitty things! Okay? Okay? Can we recognize—”

“Yes, okay,” Derek says quickly. “I get it. You know things.”

“—Damn right I know things and besides, newsflash! I’m not the one sabotaging myself because I think I shouldn’t be happy.”

He finishes in a rush, and then peters out into silent horror. He has wildly veered off track from where he wanted this conversation to go because oh, god, he’d meant to say something like, let’s grab a burger, and maybe, maybe convince Derek to buy him a beer. At his feet, Jinx looks like she wants to asphyxiate him with a sweaty sock.

Derek rolls his eye, and points out, “You don’t think you should be happy.”

“Well that’s stupid,” Stiles says, swallowing past the logjam in his throat. “Who doesn’t want to be happy?”

Derek doesn’t rise to the bait and just looks quietly miserable. Stiles doesn’t like knowing Derek can look like that because it makes him feel awful and protective.

There’s a long, loaded minute. "And you think you know what’ll make me—" He cuts off, voice carefully neutral, but expression soft and vulnerable. The he snorts like it’s impossible, which is immediately irritating like a bad personal evaluation.

He hasn’t stood this close—no wait he has, that one time in his room, and with the bullet. And the kanima and—never mind that’s not the point. The point is, Derek’s face looks better when he’s not angry, and wow, Stiles realizes he could reach out, just like that, and touch Derek’s belly, his hip, spread his hands out, thumbs hooked at his navel and pinkies in his hip divots where the muscle swells off the bone, fingers fanned across the span of his waist. It would be easy; he’s already under the reach of Derek’s guard, and Derek is gripping at the jamb, arms hanging at his sides, and isn’t moving back or shutting Stiles out—

"That's what friends are for," Stiles says quickly. He stumbles back a step, breaking out of the weird tension to take a breath. He feels dizzy like he hasn’t been breathing at all and his face is hot, burning, burning and god, he’s always been such a splotchy unattractive blusher, like he’s run into a paint sponge, so he looks out at the trees. They aren’t pretty or beautiful or anything, they just look like trees.

It takes a bit for Derek to say, stilted but catching up, "Oh, we’re friends now?” Stiles checks; his ears are red too. “What happened to leaving me dead on the side of the road?”

Of course he devolves into pedantry. "Oh, wah! That was like a million and a half years ago!” Stiles snaps back at once, dismissively waving his arms above his head. “We’ve evolved."

"To what, frenemies?" The corner of his mouth quirks up.

Stiles hesitates; they’re on the edge of something here. In the end he says, "I could work with that," even though deflection still pisses him off but—You started it first, he thinks. "Do you want to go get food? I don't really wanna have this conversation anymore and I'm hungry. I didn't eat breakfast."

"Fine," Derek says, after some uncertainty, clearly about done with this conversation as everyone else.

"Okay," Stiles says, and rubs his hands over his scalp. "Okay, do you want to drive or—"

"I'll meet you," Derek says quickly.

"Jenny's?" Stiles says.

"Sure."

"Okay," Stiles says, "See you there," and turns and flees.

For almost the entirety of the ride past the school and down 82nd to the highway out of town, Jinx sits in the passenger seat on her haunches and just stares at him, appalled. Finally she says, "That was the most embarrassing thing I've ever seen in my life."

"I didn't see you helping!" Stiles says at once.

"Well I kind of thought we were going up there to say we had to stay as his house if we wanted to hang out," she says slowly like he’s stupid. Then she clamps her paws over her snout, combs furiously at her whiskers, and goes on. "You left out the part where you were planning on telling him you wanna bang him."

"Shut up, that’s not what happened," Stiles says, grappling with the agony that that was exactly what happened.

"'I want you to be happy,'" she quotes, and even before he opens his mouth to protest it wasn’t like that at all, she says, "Oh my god it is the same difference, do not even try with me right now."

"Fuck," Stiles says, even more horrified than he was ten minutes ago during it all.

"You totally Friendzoned him on accident," she continues, relentless, swooning like she's in shock, "I don't know whether to cry or be impressed with how little game you have."

"I kind of want to cry a little," Stiles admits, flicking on his left turn light and advancing into the intersection in front of an old vacant shoe store. "My brain is crying; it’s making a mess."

"Well don’t get any on me," she says, and crawls up next to him so he can put his hand on her long fuzzy spine and reassure them both.

Derek told him once that all born werewolves had wolf daemons; that kids bitten before they settle had them too, but not older bitten. Daemons are a wolf’s humanity, and the first anchor when you’re a kid, that even the most out of control wolves won’t attack their own daemon. It’s something hunters look for, packs of wolf daemons, but that Cinth won’t change, not now, just get that bullet—

Once they’ve gotten their drinks and their menus taken away, tucked into the far back corner booth by the old jukebox that still takes two-dollar bills, Stiles asks, “Are they always wolves? Kids I mean—their daemons—right from birth or do they change and settle?”

He’s imagining a whole passel of wolf puppies skittering around a bunch of born wolf kids, like they’d seen with Laura, no one able to tell them apart, and he’s smiling until he remembers that there aren’t any left.

“No, they change,” Derek says and swallows, a quick bob of his throat. “Ash liked being cats,” he offers after a beat; it makes a strange amount of sense.

“Do you ever wish she was different?”

Derek thinks about it and then shakes his head no, “It was kind of a relief. You know you’re never getting something stupid.”

“Do the kids turn into full puppies or just the,” Stiles fans his fingers off the sides of his face like fish fins and bares his teeth. Derek makes a face and then grabs out his wallet from his back pocket, leather soft and cracked along the fold, and slips out little plastic flipbook, the kind for pictures. He doesn’t do anything with it for a while and then takes a deep breath in, through his nose, and hands it over.

There are pictures in each of the flaps; most are printouts, frayed and soft at the edges, faded, under saturated or overshadowed, no flash. He recognizes Laura immediately, eyes closed, wide laughing mouth over the head of a tawny wolf. Most are of her alone, self shots, or her with a guy who looks like her, a couple with shy kids, an older man and woman, parents maybe; one with Derek curled up in a hammock, arm hanging limp over the side. She’s drawn swear words on his face with a sharpie and is holding a spoon over his soft lolling mouth. They’re all informal, archingly happy, meant for Facebook or MySpace, except for the few at the very back, which are carefully folded polaroids, an old yellow wedding picture out in the woods, a single file line of gap-toothed kids wrestling with wolf puppies; they’re all touching so they aren’t daemons.

“Will Scott ever manage that?” he asks quietly after he’s done slipping all the little pieces back into the sleeves and handing it back, feeling weird in the odd tension of the booth; it’s probably all Derek has left, internet pictures.

“He’d have to want to,” Derek says, with a quick snort that says no, probably not. “It’s easy as a kid but you lose it once you get older.” He takes a swig of his coke, and adds. “The human part reasserts itself or something; you have to work at it.”

“Can you do it?” Stiles asks. Laura had been darker than her daemon, creamy brown fur under all the blood and dirt.

“Hasn’t really been a priority,” Derek says, looking out the window at the parking lot, which Stiles takes to mean there’s something else to it. If he considers the tropes, he figures it’s some kind of mental peace crap, and speaking of tropes—

“I kind of thought that werewolves didn’t have daemons,” Stiles admits, stuffing his straw down into the ice. “None of the legends say so,” although he’s already rolling his eyes as he says it.

At their feet, Asterope let’s out a scathing noise, and then shoves her way into the booth, her pearly razor-back fur sticking up over the lip of the table like a shark fin as she settles her head on Derek’s thigh. She’s too big, but Derek doesn’t seem to mind.

“No, that’s a human thing,” Derek says over her, in the flat voice of someone for which this has been a constant, consuming annoyance. “We can go so far from our daemons that they freak out and assume things.”

He looks frazzled and grumpy at that and kind of hunches back into the booth cushion, arms crossed and looking like he’s about to get into it about supernatural media misrep, and Stiles kind of likes this petty side of Derek. He wonders if he has a favorite brand of socks or pressed juice or hates Ron Paul. “That’s us,” Stiles says, finally. “Bunch of asses. So it’s a distance thing? Makes me think of witches.”

“We can’t go that far,” Derek agrees, which hadn’t been what Stiles had meant but—

“Wait, they’re real? No, I meant I was just thinking about the Salem trials,” he elaborates with a wave of his hand like it’ll somehow encompasses the horror of burning people alive. Which he’s done now. That’s an activity he’s participated in. “You know, if they took the daemons far enough away and they died, they were humans, and if they didn’t they were witches.”

“No they’re real. They can get pretty far. Maybe three miles? I don’t know, my parents knew a witch but I never talked to her,” Derek says. “Albatross,” he adds, and Stiles closes his mouth.

Stiles wonders what it was like, growing up on the opposite end of a fairy tale, if they had stories about horrible axe murdering woodsmen to keep the kids in at night. For once, Derek seems uncomfortable in the silence, and goes on. “There’s an old legend, for us,” his voice is soft a little airy with old remembered stories, cozy Sunday mornings, rich lemon sunshine peeking through the windows, “That the very first werewolf was born with her daemon inside of her, that they were one and that’s why she could change and take his shape.”

“That’s,” Stiles scrunches his face. “I don’t know, is it sweet? I don’t know how to react to that.”

“I can’t imagine being inside you all the time,” Jinx agrees, and ducks under Stiles’ swatting hand and snickers. She’s resisting the urge to make an inappropriate joke; he can tell because he wants to make the same one.

“It’s supposed to be perfection,” Derek says, and when Stiles looks at him, he sees Derek lay his hand on Asterope’s forehead, his gaze caught in the middle ground, distracted. “You never lose control.”

“There’s a ‘but’ in there,” Stiles picks out. “What happened?”

“Her kids had daemons when they were born but they still changed,” he says. Stiles winces; he thinks he already sees the end of this. “And they had a human father who tried to kill them when he found out. The mom died protecting them,” he says it all at once like he’s reading a wiki page, bitter but not surprised.

“Oh,” Stiles says.

“The oldest sister became the first alpha, and the father became the first hunter,” Derek adds.

“You’re a great story teller,” Stiles says, which at least surprises a snort out of him, quick and muffled, jogging his throat.

“Laura did it better,” Derek agrees, and it’s maybe the first time Stiles has ever heard her name without the accompanying whale-song of grief. “She had voices.”

Their food, when it gets there, is great. Stiles stuffs his face (prime rib dip, crunchy ciabatta bread, garlic parm sauce and savory au jus, thick wedge fries which Jinx decimates) and for a while Derek frowns down at his hands and caught up in soft memories and ignoring his chicken wrap.

Stiles manages to hold off until his mouth isn’t full at any rate before he asks, “Aren’t you hungry?”

“I ate already,” Derek says, in a tone that translates as I’m lying.

“You don’t have a kitchen,” Stiles points out.

“It’s rabbit season,” he says, and smirks thinly. He does look uncomfortable about the interrogation, though, so as a compromise he tears off bits of it to give to Ash. Stiles figures it’s a werewolf thing and maybe they’ve learned enough about each other today so he leaves off.

On Friday, Stiles abandons his house and his dad’s back-to-school shopping lists and that lump of anxiety (he has two weeks!) to find out that Derek’s been living in the back yard behind his burned house, in an old yellow tent with a crinkly blue tarp thrown over the top even though it hasn’t been raining. He has a blow up mattress (hand pump the psycho) with an old sleeping bag and a Costco florescent lamp.

“Oh my god, no,” Stiles says. At his feet, Jinx dramatically flops to the ground and covers her face with her paws in protest. He’d been hoping Derek was at the very least living in the house in one of the less burned rooms.

“What?” Derek says suspiciously from a lawn chair, lounging in a filthy white tank and two-hundred dollar professionally scavenged denim. He’s reading a magazine, Art in America.

“Aren’t you responsible for minors?” Stiles demands, tearing his eyes away from the lazy, thrown wide sprawl of Derek’s knees.

Derek looks enormously confused, eyebrows winged up. Asterope is watching them over her paws. “No?” he says, taking in his urban roughage. “They live with their families and Isaac has a guardian.” He looks back at his magazine. “I’m pretty sure we’ve had this conversation. They only come over for pack business.”

“Yeah but,” Stiles tries to gesture at the house and then the tent and then the theoretical condo he never saw with a you were a functional adult like last week subtitle, but Derek doesn’t look like he understands so the next day Stiles brings by news clippings with condo listings circled in sharpie.

“Is this a frenemy thing?” Derek asks suspiciously. “I think want to downgrade.” He purses his mouth over the flower bouquet of cuttings Stiles has meticulously stuck together with green painters tape. It unfolds like an accordion, and when Stiles demonstrates Derek rolls his eyes so hard it looks painful.

“I don’t need a new place, I’m fine out here,” Derek says unreasonably, but seems willingly enough to go along to the showings Stiles was gracious enough to set up. It’s good, he should get out of the house more, meet new people so Stiles doesn’t feel like a solitary tether strung tight to a bucking hot air balloon—

“You’re coming,” Derek says, shouldering his jacket. It’s like half a trillion degrees outside and Asterope is laid out flat like if she gets close enough to the ground she’ll sink into it. Jinx Is panting in Stiles’ arms, and Stiles is already sweltering in his short sleeves just looking at him catering to his metro vanity and—

“Hold up, what?” Stiles says, following him out of the house and down the gravel path to where the Camaro is parked under a dappled breath of shadow, cool like shiny black beetle, talking as they go. “No, no, come on, I did all the hard work already. This is your time to shine! It’s easy, here, I’ve written all the addresses down,” and when that doesn’t work he resorts to shameless, petty whining and foot dragging. “But it’s hot.

“Wow bad planning on your part,” Derek says at last with wide earnest eyes, the shit, holding the seat for Asterope to jump in the back. “It’d be a shame is this list blew out the window entirely on accident without anyone there to stop it.”

“You’re so petty,” Stiles grumbles and climbs in. He slams the door extra hard because Derek hates it, and collapses dramatically against the window in protest while Jinx wiggles her way into the back to sit next to Ash.

“Cheer up, I’ll buy you a beer,” Derek says, once they’re well on their way down the road and Stiles is leaning into a turn.

Stiles perks up. “Really?”

“No.”

--

The first is a walkup down on Birch; a breakfast nook, a single bedroom with an in-house washer and dryer, an east facing exposure letting in creamy eleven o’clock light through the blinds.

“Mold,” Derek says, sniffing around in the bathroom.

"You house is all mold!" Stiles says, but follows him out.

The second is a basement suite, which is an immediate mistake on hindsight, but Derek dutifully pokes around in the kitchen and makes admiring noises over the stainless steel fixtures while the family upstairs stomps around. The feeling of chagrin follows him all the way to the third place (corner five level split, the entrance tucked into the side of the building looking out on a fence) where it morphs into crushing embarrassment when all Derek does is take one step in and then back out, shaking his head.

When Stiles asks, he just says, “Someone died in here,” and they get back in the car.

“That wasn’t on the listing,” he mutters, but maybe that’s why it’s been on the market for five months.

They check out a couple others. Stiles likes the fourth the best, which is a green starter home with a hedge garden and a single slab driveway, no garage. Derek doesn’t really have any helpful opinions other than, “It’s nice.” Stiles has a momentary crisis between loft five and bungalo six about his life decisions during the second hour, but Derek seems to be enjoying himself well enough once he gets comfortable criticizing the crown molding—

“Hey!” Jinx shouts, looking over Stiles’ shoulder at the last house. Stiles looks and finds Asterope hovering close behind him, near his shin, enough to startle him into taking a half step away. “Watch where you’re sitting,” Jinx is saying, although Asterope isn’t looking at her until the tail end of, “He might touch you,” which is when she snarls at and retreats back to Derek’s side, tail tucked and ears back.

“Sorry,” Derek mutters and goes.

Stiles never joined the swim team because the chlorine wrecks Jinx’s fur, leaves it rough and sticky, even if it was the obvious choice, something they would have been good at. He’s thinking about that, driving around in the rain, the puddles turning the asphalt into a splotchy, hydroplaning nightmare. What it would have been like with daemon a little more comfortable on land.

He says, “We should go surfing some time.” Take a day, load up the jeep and drive down to the coast, windows open, no AC, set up on the beach, rent some boards and drink beer and maybe fall asleep on the sand smelling like sunscreen.

Jinx looks back from the window; she doesn’t like chlorine but she really loves puddles.

“Scott could come with us now,” she says slowly, curling up now, rolling onto her back on the seat. They have a dog carrier they should be using, but she hates cages and he hates seeing her in them. “Cinth could stay on the beach. He’d be really good at it I bet.”

“Yeah,” he says; he’d have to take time off work first, or he’d want Isaac to come. Stiles should be kinder; Scott deserves more friends. It’s just that he can’t seem to get over the jealousy, that tiny, petty voice saying he’s my friend, mine, greedy for his time. And the weird, hazy tension follows him all the way up the hill and into Derek’s house like a heavy low hanging cloud until—

“I put wiring in,” Derek says preemptively once Stiles and Jinx get to the door. Asterope is hovering near the table, gnawing on a huge bone like a deer femur or something under the table. “So you can stop setting me up.”

“What you didn’t like it?” They’re in the kitchen, which isn’t too bad, really, grimy from time but not fire, and does, in fact, have two little lamps sitting pretty on the counter, casting harsh florescence over the stained cupboards.

“No,” Derek says.

“You’re hooked up to the grid out here?” Stiles asks, poking around, but sees the highlighter orange extension cords snaking out the door to the back porch, and the quiet rumble of a generator. The floors are bare and swept. So is the living room, where all the ruined furniture has been pushed to the perimeter to make room for the tent and tarp.

“It started to leak,” Derek explains defensively as Stiles flops down into one of the lawn chairs and laughs and says, “I could have told you that,” but all Derek does is grumble a little and let Stiles pull out his laptop and put on Toy Story, and halfway through the Pizza Planet toy grab, even pulls up a chair to get a closer look.

“My brother’s favorite,” is all he’ll say about it, and a little later, asks quietly, like Stiles doesn’t have to answer, “Do you watch movies with Scott?”

“He works a lot,” Stiles says, and when Derek nods, frowning, Stiles adds, not really sure why he’s irritated, “Scott’s allowed to have other friends,” and Derek doesn’t ask again.

By the end of the first movie, Stiles has graduated from absent-minded longing to an intense psychological craving for marshmallows, and when he gets back from the gas station, Derek has scrounged up a kerosene lamp from the depths and removed the glass hood. Asterope is sitting close, looking about as eager as Stiles has ever seen her, even wagging her tail a little. They roast the marshmallows on camping forks with the laptop mounted between them on a cooler. Stiles feeds Jinx the crackly, burned bits with his fingers, and then falls asleep by accident in the chair, lulled by the sound of rain pattering through the hole in the foyer.

He’s not sure what wakes him up—it’s not a noise or anything—but when he rolls his head to the side, he finds Asterope considering him, a foot away from his face; she’s close enough for him to see how green her eyes are and the soft grey speckle of her fur extending from her shiny black nose, feel her breath on his face.

He doesn’t say anything. She’s been doing this a lot lately, and he feels a weird, immediate tension racket up in his belly. Jinx is asleep on his chest, belly up and breathing under his palm with her paws clamped tight to the back of his hand; sea otters wrap themselves in seaweed and hold hands when they sleep, to keep from drifting out with the tide.

“Ash,” Derek says quietly from the doorway. He’s holding himself very still, and matches Stiles’ gaze just long enough for Asterope to trot primly out of the room, ears back. Then he drops his eyes to the floor and flees to the kitchen, head down and shoulders hunched.

“I think Ash wants to kill me,” Stiles muses to Jinx when they get home that night and he tells her about it. She laughs once, sharp and mocking, and yeah, that’s pretty stupid. It continues to be stupid through the week whenever he comes around, running up against her every which way he turns. He’s been bringing little things he finds from garage sales that he thought would be useful, a battery powered Buzz Lightyear night light, an old grandma quilt rescued from a trunk that smells like must but is soft and warm. All these close encounters are leaving Stiles paranoid and Derek shaky and pale.

Derek seems to be sticking to the house, living in the remains. Stiles can’t really say he’s surprised; Derek always kind of seems like he’s stuck.

It comes to a head two days before school.

Stiles is needling Derek, following him around and getting on his only wilting nerve, doing stupid pointless shit because he can, because Derek takes one step forward and ten steps back and Stiles doesn’t know where they stand half the time and it pisses him off.

“I’m just saying—” Stiles says, angry now, kicking at twigs.

“Well don’t,” Derek interrupts. “I don’t need you to tell me how to live. I don’t need the meddling and I don’t need—” he cuts himself off but Stiles already hears the end of it.

“You’re a fucking piece of work,” Stiles says, kind of astounded, and hurt, a little. “I’m trying to help you.”

“Well maybe I don’t want that,” Derek says. His voice sounds raw. He’s backtracking and trying to make it stick. Asterope is keeping close for a change, and Jinx is testing their limits because she gets irritated about it sometimes, tugging until they’re both wrung out. “Maybe I’m tired of being a—a project for you. I’m not a fucking charity case.” He looks over his shoulder, distracted.

“I don’t think you are!” Stiles says.

Derek holds up a hand. “Shut up a second—”

“Oh come on,” Stiles says. “I’m trying to have a—”

Stiles drops.

His face smashes into the ground. It feels like he’s burning up or dying maybe. It’s so surprising he doesn’t even make a noise, just one second he’s standing and then next he’s breathing fungus. He thinks it’s a panic attack, at first, or asthma, his lungs snared shut, but then a woman in a slinky sequined mini swans out from behind a tree. She’s ethereally beautiful, long legs, shiny hair a wide red mouth--

“Alright, come with me,” she says, and holds up Jinx in her fist.

He hears Derek gag the second before Jinx starts sobbing Stiles’ name. He doesn’t even think about it, just starts crawling over rocks and twigs that cut his hands, scoots himself on his belly with his feet when he can’t manage to hold himself up, and fights against Derek’s hands when they come down on his shoulders.

“Don’t think about it, Derek,” the woman says. She waggles Jinx like a piece of meat, at both Derek and Asterope. “I’ll kill her,” and Stiles is already gasping, “Please, no, no, no,” over and over and pleading, desperate, shameless, as Derek hesitates and then gathers him up and follows without resistance.

They’re shoved into a big square white van with bars across the window looking into the drivers seat. Stiles is pretty sure this is what happened to all the other people and spends the entire ride sobbing between clenched teeth with how much it hurts, skin crawling. He throws up twice in the corner, choking on sharp, acidic bile. Derek puts hand on the back of his neck after the first time and leaves it there warm against his clammy skin even though it probably smells.

They’re marshaled out to the old warehouse lined in old heavy shipping containers and a couple run-down CAT forklifts. By then Stiles has sailed clear into shock. He’s never been in this much pain before or felt this wretched, burning, violating sickness where she’s touching Jinx.

He wants to cry, and does a bit. It spills over until he’s blind with it. Derek has to wipe it off with the heel of his hand and keep his other arm braced under Stiles’ shoulders to keep him walking.

She walks them to the back wall where four, squat boxy cages are arranged in a line behind and an autopsy table with mounted hospital cuffs, covered in blood. She takes their phones. There’s a thick latticework of duct-taped cables running from the cages and two tall floodlights leading to a generator. She has her fist around Jinx’s throat and they have to crouch and crawl since it’s too short to stand, steel bars. She locks it behind them with a heavy steel key and tosses Jinx and Asterope in another. Stiles can feel the woman’s hand at his neck even after it’s gone, the specter threat of it, the creeping tar-like ruin.

“Well that was easy,” the woman says conversationally, crouching down to their eye level. “Now let’s see if I can catch the rest of you. Return the favor, you understand.”

“I won’t let you,” Derek promises.

She laughs; it’s a horrible glass-scrape of a sound, too deep for how wisp thin her body is, and leans in close to the cage. Her voice drops a register into a snarl. “I’m going to tear them to pieces and then I’m going to come back and turn your little friend and make him do it to you.”

“Let me out and we’ll see how that works out for you,” Derek snaps, but he’s already tugging Stiles back away from the perimeter.

She flips a switch and leaves with a click of her heels, leaving behind this horrible electric thrum that fills the air and vibrates off the bars. It makes all the hair stand up on Stiles’ arms. It’s a bad idea even before he does it, but all Stiles can think about it getting to Jinx and touches one trying to force the door. His heart immediately feels like it’s about to burst and he goes blind for real this time. Then Derek drags him back and wraps himself around Stiles to keep him still.

“I’m gonna barf,” Stiles says, pulling at his arms, shaking and weak when he comes out of it. The whole room is fuzzy, the walls smearing—his fingers can’t hold tension on Derek’s sleeve. “Please—she’s hurt.”

“It’ll just make it worse,” Derek says, a quiet murmur into his ear. He hunches over a little more. This cage is built for one, and uncomfortably at that. “Ash,” and two over, Asterope is already circling the little puddle Jinx is whorled into, and curls around her, gently licking the blood out of her fur. Then Stiles passes out.

--

"Jinx," Stiles says, when he wakes up, groggy and pissed.

“She’s fine,” Derek says at once.

“God, you have such a horrible threshold for fine,” Stiles complains. His mouth tastes sour and awful, but he feels better, the strange phantom contact of touching daemons has eased some of the hurt. He can feel the press of Derek’s anxiety, like poking through three layers of cloth, just pressure. “How long—?”

“An hour,” says Derek.

“My phone’s locked,” Stiles says abruptly, feeling panic build back up. All it’ll take is a text from Derek, Stiles is hurt and Scott’ll come running, and he’s not worried about Cinth but if Isaac—“Mine is too,” Derek says quietly. “Don’t worry about it, she won’t find them. We just have to concentrate on getting out of here.”

"Right, right, okay, calm down,” Stiles says, shushing him, and then to the other cage, “Jinx buddy, say something."

"No one's home," she says, weak and quivering into Ash’s snowy side, and something tough and sinewy unclenches in his belly. "Please leave a message after the shut up."

Stiles sags into Derek's chest, can't seem to catch a breath with how much his ribs hurt. "Jinx can you move?" he says.

"No," she says, but it's petulant; she just doesn’t want to. Stiles shoves at Derek's arms, “Okay, okay, let go,” and crawls to the edge of the cage, looks out best he can at source of power for the electricity. "Could you get us out of here if there wasn't any electricity?" he asks over his shoulder at Derek.

"I might be able to pick the lock," Derek says craning his neck to check.

"Okay," he says, swallowing. This is going to hurt. "Jinx I need you to crawl through the bars.”

“Oh my god, no,” she whispers. "They're too small."

"They're not," Stiles says, "you know they're not. See that cable over there? The one connected to the generator? I need you to pull it out."

"I can't," she whispers.

"You have to," he insists. "You're the only one who can. Ash'll help you out, right? She'll push you through."

"She will," Derek says.

"It won't hurt that bad," Stiles says encouragingly, and laughs a little when she snarls, "You're such a liar," and gets up.

Stiles braces himself for the pain, and shoves the hood of his sweatshirt into his mouth so he doesn't bite off his tongue. Derek winds his arms under Stiles armpits and then back behind his head to keeps his neck straight. He must black out, because the next thing he knows, he can breathe again and Jinx is sprawled out on the concrete, keening and bleeding but outside. Asterope is pacing, ceaseless in the cage, on a constant low-grade growl as Jinx picks herself up and stumbles over to the generator, twitching every few feet.

“Which wire?” she yells sniffing around the bottom of the generator.

“There’s only one,” Stiles says, with a touch of impatience, to which she responds, “Shut the hell up, there’s like, eight,” and starts tugging at one of the long insulated cords clamped onto the dug up city wiring with her mouth.

“Try releasing the clamp,” Stiles suggests, and Jinx shouts back, “I don’t have thumbs!”

“Hit the button,” Derek says, and there’s a long humiliating moment of silence.

Jinx struggles up on her haunches nosing around the generator until she finds the switch, and as soon as the hum of electricity fades, Derek reaches around Stiles, claws out and longer than Stiles has ever seen them, and starts fussing with the mechanics of the lock. It takes max about twenty seconds for the door to swing open.

Derek helps Stiles out, and then hurries to do the same for Ash, and they spend a couple seconds smelling each other’s faces before Stiles, arms around Jinx, says, “Let’s get out of here.”

They almost manage it.

There’s a couple old cars out front, two rusting Hondas and a battered ’67 Chevy and one of them even starts when Derek hotwires it. The problem is the lady comes back ducking out of a sleek convertible, thankfully alone. They stare at each other over the hood of the car, and then she takes a huge ass knife out of a slim black clutch.

“We’ll that’s inconvenient,” she says, and leaps.

Derek vaults the hood and meets her in mid air, which should look stupid and like TV Kung Fu, but doesn’t, somehow. They crash and she loses the knife, but Derek gets thrown into a wall, which crumbles, bricks cracking up the center and dusting Derek’s shoulders. With a roar, Derek shifts and darts out. There isn’t any time to get to the car, so Stiles hisses, “Follow me,” to Asterope.

She whines at him, her whole body tensed to spring, but she follows him when he says, “he’ll do better if he’s not worrying about you.”

They sneak into an alley. Stiles grabs a steel pipe to use as a weapon. He doesn’t have phone so he can’t call for help. And he doesn’t know if he’ll have time to get them into the car. There’s no way they can out run her. His whole body still aches, and Jinx is twitching wildly like she’s still being shocked—

That’s it, he thinks, the same time Derek roars. It sounds like he’s in pain.

“No wait!” he yells at Asterope, but she’s already gone.

Stiles clears the alley with enough time to see Derek, wrapped up like they’re kissing, bleeding from the teeth at his neck, and Asterope’s leap, already howling. She barrels into the lady, sinks her teeth into her shoulder and has enough momentum to rip through the muscle and expose the gleaming white bone. Then she’s caught in a crushing embrace as the eater drops Derek, and sinks her fangs into Asterope’s flank.

Derek arches and screams.

“No!” Stiles shouts, dropping Jinx and running.

When he’s close enough he winds up, doesn’t have any time to think beyond bend your knees, put your weight into the follow through. When the pipe connects it makes a sick meaty noise and caves part of her skull in.

“Oh gross,” he says. He can see her brain. It’s bloodless and grey and already healing. She drops Asterope, who bleeds golden light instead of red, and turns on him.

“That was a mistake,” she says, and grabs at him.

He yelps and falls on his ass, scuttling back over the pipe and gravel as she slinks across the street in front of him, her mouth full of jagged broken teeth, like glass, eyes one slick film of red, like a marble. He scrambles to his feet and runs back into the warehouse, and she follows at a sedate pace, likely thinking he’s easy prey.

“I’m going to take so much pleasure in eating your little daemon,” she calls, voice echoing. “I’m going to make you feed her to me.”

“You should go on a diet!” he shouts back, crouching next to the generator.

“Nah,” she says. “You’ll do.”

Up close it looks homemade, thrown together out of spare parts from the junkyard in the attached lot. It’s hooked up to a dug up power line; he doesn’t have to deal with an internal wire system—just a couple of repurposed jumper cables. The handles are insulated, but the copper sparks warningly when he takes them off the generator knobs.

He scrambles to get ready, god he hopes he’s ready, and acts right as she grabs his shoulder and wrenches him around. He jerks back instinctively and she shrieks this horrible, nightmare noise when he shoves the clamps into her wide snarling mouth. Her whole body seizes and she’s strong enough that her teeth dent the copper, jaw locking around them as she drops and convulses, and then goes still. The chemical smell of rapidly cooked meat stings the inside of his nose.

He waits a beat, two, but she doesn’t move. He doesn’t know if she’s dead or not, and doesn’t really care, so he leaves her where she’s lying, still hooked up and sparking faintly.

Jinx he helps first. He sits her down in the front seat of the car, where she curls up, panting, eyes closed and in pain, still bleeding a little. He grabs Derek next, who isn’t shifted anymore, or healing, or conscious. Stiles drags him to the backseat, “You weigh like a million pounds,” and shoves him in as gentle as he can, rearranging his huge gangly body so his knees are up around his chest and he can shut the door.

“Asterope?” he says, crouching beside her next, hands hovering anxiously over her seeping flank, “Ash can you move? Oh come on,” he says; she’s bleeding, that horrible golden blood. It’s seeping down her leg and over the gravel and evaporating in coiling bands of steam. “Oh god, oh god please I don’t want to touch you. You’re kind of violent and I think you want to hurt me a lot—” but there’s not much he can do about it, so he says, “I’m sorry,” and picks her up. She’s heavy and sticky and—

It hits him like the electricity, but doesn’t hurt—well it does, but it’s Derek’s hurt, and manageable—and it’s running all the way down to his toes like a grounding rod, a little like he’s been dropped into a bath full of water, almost too hot. He shivers and gasps without meaning too. He kind of wants to drop her even as he grasps her closer.

Ash is awake but groggy when he puts her in the car in the front seat next to Jinx and runs around to the driver’s side. She lays her head on the console and stares at him. He tries not to look at her while he shifts into drive and pulls away from the curb but can’t help little peeks out of the corner of his eye.

He can’t tell if she’s glaring at him. He assumes that she is.

--

Stiles skids into Emergency and hops out screaming for help. “We were walking,” he’s saying to a resident wrapping him up in a blanket, tumbling over the words as Derek is loaded up onto a gurney and a gorilla daemon takes Ash out of the car and gets golden blood all over his arms. “They came out of nowhere—”

They have to give him a sedative, he’s freaking out so bad, and they sit him on a corner bed in processing while a kind chimp gently wipes the blood out of Jinx’s fur with a hot towel. Then Stiles is shuffled out to the waiting room, and Stiles waits on the uncomfortable plastic chairs mellow as anything for two officers and his dad to show up, who zeros in on him immediately and swipes him up into a full body hug. Ophalia circles Jinx three times and licks at her face. “Jesus, Stiles, oh god,” he repeats, over and over, hands cupping the back of his head like he’s a kid, and Stiles clings to him, shaking and scared, until one of the officers—Pete, fucking Pete, fucking suede shoes Pete—clears his throat.

Dad pulls back, and stares intent. “What happened?”

--

Stiles tells him as much as he can.

He leaves out the werewolves, because duh, or that he and Derek were walking around alone in the woods, because parent, but he tells them where to find the body, and says, “She said she was going to eat them,” because why not, she’s dead, she can be a regular psycho. No one needs to know she was a monster.

After that he’s taken home.

They match her DNA and fingerprints to a bunch of knives and the van, and the blood to most of the victims to the table, and the bite marks on Ash to the surviving construction workers’ daemons. The media runs with it for a cycle, and Stiles’ dad gets a commendation. All Stiles really thinks about it is Derek doesn’t have any listed next of kin. Peter’s fucked off and can’t go to the hospital anyway since he’s still technically missing, so Derek spends about a week in alone in ICU and then escapes against medical advice (Melissa has opinions about it).

By then school is in full swing, and that’s a valid excuse as any.

Scott corners him two weeks after the fact. “You okay dude?” He was smart about it, kept Stiles talking and distracted while the other guys showered and left, and then set Cinth on the door as a big, impossible blockade.

Scott always has a way of making things seem okay, like you can tell him anything, so Stiles blurts, “I touched Derek’s daemon.” Then has to sit down. It’s like holding it in has been the only thing keeping him upright.

Scott takes a reflexive step back, and chokes out, “Seriously?”

“When we got attacked. I had to pick her up. She was bleeding and I thought they were going to die, so I did; it was only for a second!” Stiles says in a rush, and stares at his shoelaces, the enormity of it hitting him all at once. You don’t ever touch another daemon. You don’t ever do that. People get arrested and sent to jail for it. It’s in the Constitution. Jinx is hovering anxiously around his ankles, silent.

Scott hesitates, but finally settles on, “Is he—okay with it?”

“Um, no? Well—” he pauses, and then blusters on, “Well I mean I don’t know, I haven’t talked to him about it—don’t look at me like that! I’m not being unreasonable!” Stiles throws his hands up, palms facing and fingers splayed like he’s begging, or holding a bowl. “Who is ever okay with it!”

“I dunno, your boyfriend?” Scott is saying, plopping down on the bench next to him, and shoulders him comfortingly. “Look man, I know you didn’t want to tell me, I get that; it took me a little while to get used to it, I’m sorry I wasn’t more supportive. I just really think that—”

“We aren’t dating!” Stiles blurts out, looking up now.

“—you need to be honest,” Scott blinks, derailed. “Really? Uh, wow, okay; Isaac said you were. What the hell? You’ve been over his place all summer! And you went house shopping! That sounds pretty dating.”

“No. Oh my god, no!” Stiles says high and alarmed. “Well I mean, I was kind of sort of aiming for that—but like in future time. Not right now! Isaac’s been telling you that?”

“Sorry. Sorry! I don’t know! You get really weird about people you have crushes on,” Scott says, and then nudges him again and admits soft, under his breath, into the quiet space between them, “I touched Niels.”

A great deal of Scott’s behavior suddenly makes a lot more sense. “Yeah?” Stiles says, swallowing past a sudden logjam. “Why?”

“It felt really good,” Scott says, and then shudders a little with memory and looks all at once exhausted. “I don’t know how to describe it; like I was a better person, or we were better together.” Cinth lumbers over and lays her head on his knees, looking quietly unhappy, and that’s about as much as Stiles can take, so he scoops Jinx up and flees. He manages two more days of Jinx’s silent, crushing judgment before he puts it to the sticking place and heads out.

I am number 5, says the note tacked to Derek’s empty, empty house.

“Okay, now he’s just fucking with us,” Jinx says, craning to read it from his arms.

They still have the addresses from the house search. The red brick building they drive to next is square and unforgiving and looms over the intersection of Sarcee and Jasper. They park in the street and loiter around the stoop until a distracted delivery guy gets buzzed in. Then Stiles rides the art deco elevator up to the top, and hovers uncertainly outside the door, debating knocking. It would be rude to walk in. Normally he wouldn’t care, it’s Derek, but he’s second-guessing all his reactions lately.

“You never did before,” Jinx reasons after a while, getting impatient and patting his shoulder, lashing her tail across his forearm. “Just go in.”

“That’s different,” Stiles insists.

Jinx hisses a scathing noise and says, “No it isn’t. Oh my god, like he doesn’t already know we’re here. Come on.”

He tests the knob to prove her wrong and finds it unlocked, so he let’s himself in.

The loft wasn’t one of his favorites, but he can see why Derek likes it; it has all of his personality, and makes up for in a sprawling open floor plan with a big affected wrought iron spiral staircase in one corner leading up to the jutting perch of a bedroom. There are neighbors, which is a surprise, and no furniture, which isn’t (he was half expecting the tent), but on the other hand it would be hard to torch, six stories up and made of rock, surrounded by people.

Derek’s waiting on the stairs, and Jinx is wrong, Derek very obviously wasn’t expecting company. He’s wearing loose dove grey sweatpants, soft looking and comfortable and bunching up in piles over his feet, no socks and a wispy tank hanging off the shelf of his clavicle; stuff meant for sleeping and privacy. Stiles doesn’t see Asterope and can’t help but feel like that’s on purpose.

The silence drags on; he feels like he’s been caught trespassing and whoops there’s the panic.

“Hey,” he says finally, drifting over until he’s at the bottom of the stairs, Derek a step up from him. He looks at the curve of his neck where there aren’t any bite marks and says, “Look you’re alive,” and then winces.

Derek just nods, a stiff jerk of his chin. “That’s what they keep telling me.”

He’s not going to make this easy, Stiles thinks, and says, “I knew you’d pick this place. I knew it; none of the others were dramatic enough.” He gestures outwards with an awkward flail of his arm. “What are you thinking: muslin? Pastels? Cottage chic? I dunno, maybe some throw pillows? Don’t make a nest, that’d be weird.”

“I was thinking food.” Derek shoves his hand in his pockets. “You hungry?” He flashes his phone, giving him an out. The tension eases; Stiles breathes out, okay, okay, he can deal with ignoring it. Except—

“I want pizza,” Jinx says.

“Mushrooms?” Derek is saying absently, already tapping at the screen. She shakes her head no, and says, “Pineapples. Oh! And jalapenos; and hot sauce!”

Derek stares at her. “What?”

—Yeah, Stiles could ignore it, and maybe that’s for the best, but on the other hand he can still feel the grounding weight of Ash in his arms, heavy and solid and warm, that shivery feeling of something else entirely. Outside all the fear and pain and horror—it hadn’t felt bad, scary and new, maybe. He thinks about what Scott said, and how he hasn’t been able to put Jinx down barely at all these last few weeks out of terror and maybe how he’d like that to stop.

Jinx looks at him once, sharp, before he does it. But goes helpfully limp when he shifts her around and holds her out, hands under where her armpits would be as a kid, offering up what little he really has to give.

Derek freezes, shocked defenseless, but he pockets his phone and when he speaks next, his voice is calm and even. “What’s this?”

Stiles rolls his eyes. “Well it’s not a toaster.”

“It’s not pizza either,” Jinx adds, grumpy.

Derek just keeps staring, shoulders a little hunched.“I’m a bad idea,” he says finally at a hush, laughing a little even though it’s not funny, but without any more prompting, he brings his hands up, not yet touching Jinx, just resting hot against Stiles’ knuckles, fingers brushing the knobby parts of his wrists. No one with good intentions has ever been this close to Jinx. It’s kind of scary, but good.

“It’s a good thing I like bad ideas then,” Stiles says, not saying, god you’re so dramatic like he wants to. Then Jinx chimes in, “Yes, okay, you’re a martyr, we get it. This is kind of uncomfortable!” and wiggles a little as Derek threads hesitant fingers between Stiles’ knuckles, taking her weight.

One of his big square palms and the fan of fingers spreads wide over her back and into her fur. The other tucks reverently under her rump and tail.

It hits Stiles immediately, full body and intense like static or shoving a butter knife in a socket, hot and shivery and like he’s being cradled by a hundred hands at once, way down deep inside him. “Oh, wow,” Stiles blinks back sudden, shocked-there tears, and gasps a little, and then shudders. “Oh, wow. Are you feeling this?

“Well I’m not not,” Derek says, snippy, but he curls her closer like she’ll get taken away.

“Is this what it was like when I--?” He swallows and sways toward Derek like a magnet.

“I don’t know,” Derek says shakily, “I don’t know, it hurt too much. Maybe.”

“Sorry,” Stiles says, guilty, too late.

Derek is already shaking his head, distracted, running a hand down Jinx’s back. “It’s not like you could have done anything else.”

Then Stiles is saying, “Just—come here, come here,” and doesn’t even wait. He steps up and crowds in and bookends Derek’s bare feet with his own and reaches up to cup his face and kiss him, Jinx caught between them.

In the rich, red-orange five o’clock light, tiding in from the big portrait windows to the right, Derek’s stubble is scratchy against Stiles’ palms, sends prickles up his arms to the insides of his elbows. Against the tips of his fingers, laddering Derek’s spine at the back of his neck, the baby curls at his hairline are soft and springy and a little damp; he smells like soap and light deodorant. Stiles starts checking things like a list, I like that, and that, and that, oh and that: the soft wet swell of his bottom lip between his teeth, the slick lingering slide of his tongue, the triple skip of his breath hitching out his nose and over Stiles’ cheek. He doesn’t know what he’s doing but when he licks hard into Derek’s mouth, he likes best the way he shudders.

“Oh my god, I’m so angry, we could have been doing this forever,” Stiles says, between wet sucking kisses. He doesn’t want to stop so he just pulls back enough so they’re breathing close into the same space. “Why is this wrong exactly?”

“I’m being squished,” Jinx grumbles, but breathy.

“Nobody likes it when you have too much fun,” Derek murmurs, soft into the space between their mouths, and wow, Stiles thinks he’s found Derek shy.

“Oh, yeah,” Stiles says when he laughs, low in his throat, Derek’s ears go a reluctant pink, his eyes hovering at Stiles’ mouth as Stiles pushes him inexorably backwards up the stairs. “Let’s have lots of fun.”

--

They don’t exactly have lots of fun. Derek says, “This—just this,” and there’s a lot of shirtless kissing and eager questing hands up in the bedroom—mattress on the floor, no box-spring, no sheets, just a naked duvetand Derek lets Stiles rock desperately against his thigh, sneaking one hand down Jinx’s belly at just the right time for Stiles to shoot off in his pants, shuddering in the curl of Derek’s arm, breathing open mouthed and hot against his sweaty chest.

Stiles drifts off after that, and wakes up ten or fifteen minutes later faced with Asterope’s furry face laid out next to his on the bed, her shiny black nose, the gentle winter drift of her shoulder and flank. There’s a nasty, corded red scar peeking through the fur on her left side, just visible over the shelf of the mattress. Derek is puttering around in the kitchen downstairs, clattering with plastic sounding objects and closing the fridge. Everything feels very far away and a little muted.

“Hey,” he whispers, curling around the squishy down pillow. They’re alone in this place, the four of them, but it feels like he needs to be quiet. That feels weird; but he abruptly squashes the urge to shout loudly. “Where’ve you been?”

She wuffles and blows a breath at him and looks unimpressed; around says the helpful Derek translator in his head.

“Still can’t talk, huh?” he says. “No! Wait, come back, haha I say dumb things without thinking—don’t leave!” His hand shoots out without thinking. She growls, reflexive, and he smacks his hand down to the bed away from her. “Sorry!” he says at once.

She quiets down, and gingerly puts her head back on the mattress, wary. She’s tensed to spring now, waiting for the excuse to write him off. He doesn’t want to give her one, he realizes with a fierce kind of surprise.

“So, hey, sorry also about the touching thing,” Stiles says now, murmuring into the high altitude quiet between them. “In my defense you were unconscious and dying. But I’m still sorry.”

It’s getting easier to parse her reactions to things; that look means he’s a dumbass, and the next one means she’s scared. He can deal with that. When he eases his hand closer to her this time, she doesn’t back away. She does bare her teeth a little. It’s mostly for show. Hopefully.

He wonders what she’d have to say about him, if she could. He hopes it’d be something good, so, opening his palm to her, he says, “What do you say? Freak him out a little?” If he’s going to start worming into Derek’s life, he might as well start at the foundation.

Leaving his hand open and loose on the pillow-top, an inviting curve to his fingers, he closes his eyes. He’s never thought about being a safe place for someone, that anyone would want him for that. That’s his reasoning, at least, and if they both get a little thrill of satisfaction out of the resulting crash of pans on concrete once she nudges forward and licks his fingers, there’s no one there to tell. Well there’s Jinx, but she’s snoring.

Stiles flips the covers back in invitation. Ash creeps in, huddling low to the ground like she’s expecting backlash. She shores up all along his front. Her fur is remarkably soft against his skin—tickly. He’s also pretty sweaty still so it’s probably going to stick, later—gross. Instead of thinking about it, he hooks an arm over her belly and then winds a hand up under her leg to scratch at her jaw. Downstairs, Derek drops something else.

“I’m exploiting this,” Stiles yells down at him. Ash grunts in agreement and wags her tail against Stiles’ knees. Maybe this apartment wasn’t a bad idea; this is a much more convenient booty call place.

“Would you guys shut up,” Jinx demands grumpily from over Stiles shoulder. “Some of us are trying to sleep.”