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Dangerous Things

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By midday it's become pretty well inescapable that Lydia isn't waking up.

Stiles has over a dozen different books open on the table in front of him, and the sum of what all of them together can tell him about incubi would hardly amount to a decent foreword. Only four of the books are properly his – dusty old things with no proper title-plate to give them away. Those are the ones Deaton entrusted to him, one a year on his birthday since Stiles' semi-official and frustratingly sporadic apprenticeship began in his fourteenth year. The rest he pilfered from the tower library (such as it is; a handful of bookshelves scattered through different rooms). His new collection comprises three histories, one genealogy of the Martin family, a bible, an old diary, an impressively bound tome written entirely in Latin, a Latin dictionary which has yet to allow Stiles to so much as identify that first one – let alone get anything useful out of it – a blacksmithing manual, a book of poetry, a manual on swordsmanship meant for the knights in training, and two books on animal husbandry, and may lightning strike him down should Stiles ever claim those last few are anything but proof he's getting desperate.

At fourteen, Stiles would probably have imagined that by the time he had four whole books from Deaton he'd be ready to handle anything. In reality, his first book contains nothing but incredibly pedantic instructions on laboratory safety, and even the bestiary was evidently penned by someone who firmly believed that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, considering how it dedicates page after page to graphic descriptions of exactly how screwed he is should he ever come face to face with any of these horrible monsters, but barely a single word to how one goes about killing them. Nothing. Nada. Naught.

The implication – which Stiles feels could stand to be a little more subtle, not that even Deaton actually read his extended critical essay on the many flaws and omissions he'd found in that text when Stiles had presented it to him on his following visit – is that fourth-year apprentices like him are expected to deal with monsters by staying the hell out of the woods and leaving the hunting to the experts. Any other day, Stiles would be on right board with that without question. Today, Deaton's not here – his last visit was months ago. The hunters all rode out hunting days ago, Alison with them, and they're not due back for another two days at the earliest. Lord Martin rode out to the king's aid in the war on the eastern border with Stiles' dad and every knight in his employ around the same time as Deaton's last visit – further away than Stiles has ever been in his life. Even Harris is gone, having conveniently found a way to reinterpret the duties of stewardship in a manner that lets him spend most of the winter far away from here.

Between the war and three long years of disastrous winters and disappointing harvests, the tithes the Martins collect every spring don't go as far as they used to. From the outside, the tower is an unassailable fortress, standing tall and proud as a monument to the centuries of the Martin family history. From the inside, it's a huge, drafty lump of stone full of rooms no-one goes into anymore. The entire population of the castle today is the Lady Lydia (may songs ever be sung of her great wit and beauty, etc), Jackson, trainee knight and all-round bastard by profession, a single cook and a single ladies' maid, both of whom are presently barricading themselves in the kitchen, and himself and Scott, whose poorly-defined servant roles have stretched so far as the rest of the staff dwindled that even Jackson can't get much mileage out of rubbing their faces in it anymore. It's the dead of winter, they're leagues behind the front line, the tower's supposed to be unassailable and no-one without the supervision of a master hunter would be out travelling by choice this time of year. Sure there's only six people left in the tower – three of them women and one of them Stiles – but they should have been safe here.

It's a little late now to realise they never allowed for an enemy who could fly.

Now Scott's out hunting the hunters – and if anyone could find and reach them in time, Scott's their man – but even if he can pick up their trail, there's no reason why they should be inside of two days ride from home yet (and at least if he can't find them, no-one will have to deal with explaining how Scott would be able to pull that off in the woods in the last grasp of winter, but that's pretty cold comfort right now). Jackson… well, if Stiles knows Jackson, he's probably hacking the snot out his training dummy in a fit of macho bullheadedness, like someone who didn't have to have a dislocated shoulder shoved back into its socket last night. Stiles is probably going to find him passed out on the floor in pain when he looks in there next, which is the sort of image he'd get a whole lot more satisfaction out of on any day but today. Stiles himself, meanwhile, wasted two hours from first light this morning hunting through every last bag and jar in all his stores without finding enough fresh mountain ash to put a ring around a jewellery box, and the rest of the day on the edge of a panic attack that never quite wants to either happen or go away, stuck in this room with his useless books that won't tell him anything except you are so, so screwed. And Lydia still won't wake up.

The morning's furious research binge did turn up a few relevant odds and ends. He knows incubi are unheard of this far west – which is making Stiles feel so proud of their history-making new discovery, seriously. He knows that if the incubus got far enough doing its… thing to leave Lydia in a coma, then she's officially 'in its thrall' and not going to wake up until someone either kills it or drives it far enough away to cross running water, which they aren't likely to find anywhere closer than the ocean at this time of year. They have probably at least seven days before she wastes away altogether, but that comes in at just about the least of all concerns on Stiles' list right now. Tomorrow night is the full moon, and if the incubus thinks it can take on Scott at the peak of a werewolf's power, Stiles would be only too happy to watch it try. The night after that the hunters are due back (and they'll be here; Stiles won't let himself believe anything else). If they can just hold it off for one more night they might just make it. But they're not going to, because once an incubus has an innocent young lady in its thrall it will be back for her, and Stiles has this hunch it's not the sort to go in for long courtships.

Every time he closes his eyes he's still seeing the look on its face in the moonlight, remembering the dark shape of its body perched over Lydia with a claw clutched against her throat. Even while Stiles watched it dislocate Jackson's shoulder and throw Scott clean across the room with one hand it never had to let go, hardly even shifted its weight, all while Stiles stood there in the doorway feeling every last ounce of how useless he was to anyone. The way it had grinned at them, with teeth like interlocking shards of ice. Stiles is under no illusion that when it dived back out through the window and disappeared it was a retreat. It hadn't taken the space of ten seconds for it to prove how little it had to fear from them; if it left, it was only to grant them the gift of twenty-four hours to do exactly what he's doing now, stewing in their own helplessness before it comes back to finish the job.

Stiles has exactly zero doubt that it's going to be back tonight, and after what he saw it do to Scott and Jackson yesterday, he has exactly zero confidence they're in any way prepared to stop it.

The only thing in his research that comes close to a working strategy comes from his book of poetry, of all credible sources – a poem recounting of something that does actually sound a good deal like the predicament they're in now. The poet has gone into such graphic and florid detail on the subject of exactly what the demon is going to do to the innocent maiden in question that Stiles came away from his first reading with the awkward feeling he knows a little too much about what the guy was doing with his other hand while working on it. The only reason he's willing to give it any weight at all is that the description of her rescuer's attempts to wake her sound a bit too close to what Stiles has been through today to put down to lucky accident, so just maybe under all that pretension there's something in it that really happened. It's even a tale that supposedly ended with the death of the incubus, but Stiles would find that a lot more exciting if the method that supposedly got the result didn't sound like exactly the sort of folklore that would opt to cure a bad cold by covering a man in leeches and hanging a newt around his neck. Stiles currently has it sorted into 'last ditch resorts'.

He wishes he had a little more hope of finding anything better before the sun goes down.

Jackson's not passed out on the floor when Stiles goes to look in on him later, though he is crouched in a corner looking like he wants to throw up, and not even in that normal way he look whenever he notices Stiles is around. Today, Jackson hardly looks at him at all, eyes skating straight over him to land on Scott, who shakes his head and repeats what he'd already told Stiles the moment he got back.

"Nothing. I couldn't even find the scent."

Jackson's eyes roll up toward the ceiling. "Of course you couldn't."

"I circled my way out from the tower for hours," Scott insists. "It snowed three times since they left, all the tracks are gone."

For one awful moment Stiles is sure this is about to erupt into a tide of useless recriminations, but all Jackson does is shove himself to his feet, wincing so badly when he forgets himself and tries to support his weight against the wall with the wrong arm that Stiles' own shoulder twinges in sympathy. He wobbles his way to the door, looking not even half as steady as he's trying to, and shoves his way past them without a word.

The silence hangs between the three of them until they've followed him all the way down to his quarters, where Lydia's waiting for them laid out on Jackson's bed. It was one of few things they'd all agreed on last night that no-one liked the idea of leaving her in the same room where she was attacked, and like it or hate it, of all the rooms in the tower that had been dusted in the last year, the quarters allocated to the knights in training had the thickest walls and the smallest windows. There's a joke there Stiles would ordinarily be longing to make about how this is how Jackson finally gets Lydia into his bed, but today even that's ruined for him.

Right up until they get there there's still that tiny hope in the back of Stiles' mind that just maybe they've got it all wrong and Lydia will be waking up – the incubus will have starved out in the cold or found the hunters all on its own, and she'll be fine and nothing will be coming after them tonight. But it's a hope that's already fading the moment he sees her, and by the time Jackson's knelt down by her bedside and put a hand on her arm without getting so much as twitch of an eyelash from her, that hope's long dead.

Jackson looks away from the bed. "Okay," he says. "It's simple. Me and McCall," he jerks his chin at Scott, "we barricade ourselves in here tonight. If it finds us, and if it gets through, we'll be ready. We scare it away, same as we did last night."

Scott's mouth drops open. Even it's plainly just bravado making Jackson talk like that, Scott's nowhere close to ready to hear any part of what they'll have to deal with tonight called 'simple'. "Jackson, it's not going to make it that easy for us a second time."

"How do you know that, McCall?" says Jackson, and oh god, thinks Stiles – they're all so geared up to fight something they're going to end up fighting each other. "When you took up howling at the moon once a month, did you pick up some kind of insight into everything else out there that goes bump in the night? Is that how it works?"

"It could have killed us last night," Scott argues, "the only- "

"Then why didn't it?" Jackson raises his eyebrows at the both of them like he thinks he's said something terribly clever.

Now Stiles can't help his eyes from rolling. "Jackson-"

"It saw a werewolf," snaps Scott, a fraction too late to convince anyone he's not pulling this off the top of his head. "It thought the rest of the pack couldn't be far behind! By now it'll have figured out that's not true."

"And when the night didn't break out in howls the moment it left, how come it didn't come straight back then, huh?"

"Jackson, both of us together couldn't land a hit on that thing!"

"Do you have a better plan, McCall? Because if you do I'm all ears."

"I have a better plan," says Stiles, before he can think better of it.

They both stop and stare at him – which, great, that was exactly what he was going for, but as usual, Stiles hasn't entirely thought through what happens next.

"You do?" says Scott. Considering that Stiles had told him basically the opposite not fifteen minutes ago, Stiles probably deserves the wounded note in his voice there.

"Well. Maybe plan is too strong a word," says Stiles. "I might have found something in one of my books."

"You might?" says Jackson.

"Why didn't you say so?" says Scott.

And that's how Stiles winds up proposing a plan he chanced on in a book of old poetry that he can't even remember why he picked up to begin with.

It's going to have to be Stiles. That much actually gets decided with almost zero argument. Jackson has the kind of masculine jawline that people who barely know him can recognise at fifty paces, and none of them imagine for a second that an incubus wouldn't notice straight away the comely maiden it was expecting has been switched out for a werewolf. Even better, that means the both of them will still get their chance to barricade themselves in with Lydia as a fall-back plan just in case this doesn't work. Two plans Stiles wouldn't willingly bet his life on – let alone Lydia's – have got to be better than one, right?

He takes one look at himself in Lydia's lacy night dress and wants to laugh hysterically. He can't though, because Scott's still here, and Stiles is painfully aware that the only reason he agreed to this plan at all is because Scott trusts him with the kind of fervour that Stiles can't even deal with right now. One hint that Stiles is in over his head and he's not going to let this happen. He has all these questions, is Stiles sure there isn't some kind of ritual they have to do first? Is this going to hurt Stiles? How far is he going to have to let the incubus get to make this work?

"I don't know; can we not talk about this?" Stiles begs him. "I'm freaking out enough already. Don't you have something else you should be doing?"

Scott looks guilty, and a little hurt, but mostly like he thinks the right thing for him to do is stay and provide moral support, even though Stiles was very serious about how he can freak himself out plenty enough without outside help. Oh god, is he going to have to play the 'ruining my one chance to save the life of the woman I love' card just to get rid of him?

"How about he gets those wolf-muscles busy downstairs moving all that furniture we need shifted?" says Jackson, loitering in the doorway. His tone suggests very little patience with how the job's not been done by now, if not hours ago.

Scott bristles at him in that special Scott way that means he's about three seconds from popping claws, and as much as Stiles needed the interruption, he can't exactly blame the guy. Jackson's right – it's a job that needs doing and Scott's the only one in any condition to do it – but being Jackson, he's still managing to be an ass about it. Doesn't help that he's calling Scott out to work on the back-up plan that won't matter unless Stiles' part goes horribly wrong, and there's no part of that that looks good for Stiles.

But he needs Scott distracted right now, and the last thing any of them need is another fight, so what he does is put a hand on Scott's shoulder and say his name. Scott jerks under his touch and looks at him.

"It needs doing," Stiles reminds him, nodding his head toward the door.

Scott nods grudgingly, and stalks out, glaring at Jackson until he's out of the room. The sound of his footsteps on the stairs gradually fades into the distance.

"So," says Jackson, and Stiles isn't even looking at him until he hears the note in his voice, "where was it you said you ran into this plan?"

Stiles gapes at him. Jesus, et tu, Jackson? If he doesn't need this from Scott then like hell he needs it from the guy who's been holding Scott's secret over their heads for months, and he's half a second from explaining that before he actually looks at Jackson properly and the challenge he was expecting to see in his eyes isn't there at all. He's not even really looking at Stiles, and the tension in his shoulders, running all the way down his good arm, says this isn't Jackson being dismissive. He's having actual trouble maintaining eye contact while broaching this with him.

Stiles knows Jackson does not give a shit about him. If he thought feeding Stiles to the incubus was all it would take to save Lydia's life he'd be the first one on board (and Stiles – he might just be the second, damn the both of them). When he explained this plan downstairs Jackson made it pretty obvious the only reason he was going along with it was to humour the guy who didn't have any other damn thing to offer anyway.

This? Is nothing Stiles expected. He gives in; blurting out, "It was in a book of poetry!" is so much easier than processing the rest of this.

Oh, now Jackson's looking at him. "Poetry?"

"It wasn't the only place I've heard of it!" It's true – he might not have remembered it without the poem to jog to his mind, but the idea wasn't completely new. He thinks.

"Oh yeah?" says Jackson. "Where else?"

"I don't remember! Just that I've heard it somewhere and – maybe it was something Deaton told me." Stiles scrubs a hand through his hair. "It makes sense! Incubi are all about life and death and sex. If you trick one into trying to drain the life out of someone who's the opposite of what it expects, maybe it all goes backwards. It fits!"

Jackson looks like an illustrative demonstration of the word 'skepticism', but eventually he nods. It's a short, stiff movement that reminds Stiles far too much of Scott's body language from moments ago than he's comfortable with.

"So just for the record," says Jackson, "how sure are you you're going to live through this?"

"Well. 'Sure' might be the wrong word," Stiles admits.

"So if it doesn't work…"

"Not really thinking about that part, thanks."

"And if it does…?"

Stiles hesitates. "The poem didn't go into a lot of detail about that option either."

Jackson gives another couple of those stiff little nods, gaze fixed firmly on the doorframe. "Is there anything else you need?"

"No, I think I'm…"

"Anything you didn't tell McCall," Jackson clarifies, and that actually shuts Stiles up completely. He thinks – probably – there should be something, but he can't even think about what it means that Jackson's offering. What it all comes down to is that Stiles thinks that if he does this, he has a shot at saving Lydia, and Jackson knows he's so far out of his depth here that he's not even going to question that.

Stiles shakes his head.

"Okay," says Jackson. He opens his mouth again like he's about to say something else, but then he stops, turns in the doorway and leaves without another word.

A few moments later, Stiles will realise he doesn't even remember the part where his legs gave out and deposited him onto the edge of Lydia's bed like a sack of potatoes.

Who'd have thought all it took was one shared experience of having to survive an assault from an evil sex demon to break down the boundaries around here? Maybe if they make it through the night Jackson'll stop calling Scott by his last name and bother to remember how to pronounce Stiles' and they'll all be laughing about this around a campfire by spring. Then Lydia will fall madly in love with him and he'll invent a new invocation to repair next year's weather and single-handedly save the harvest and unicorns will frolic through the woods.

What? It could happen.

Stiles is not actually counting on the incubus being so starved for affection when it turns up tonight that it would completely miss how the person in Lydia's bed isn't Lydia. Hence the nightdress, not that it's really in his size (or his colour), but he's not that much larger than her, so it could be much worse. He's also going to be wearing a funerary veil – which isn't so much conventional sleepwear, but supposing they really were the sort of cowards who'd give in and leave Lydia up here to her fate, adding the veil to her ensemble makes a certain symbolic sense. Stiles has already teased several long strands of strawberry-blonde hair out of Lydia's comb, and he figures if he lays them out so they peek out of the bottom of the veil then the illusion will be… okay, not complete, but a reasonably promising work in progress.

What's going to make the illusion complete is the pot of incense that Stiles is about to light and leave burning at the bedside. He may be a mere fourth-year apprentice who only gets instruction for two months out of every twelve and who isn't even allowed a real bestiary yet, but the most basic of all basic glamours – the kind that does no more than encourage the subject to see what they were already expecting to see – that he can pull off with a little smoke and some nightshade and juniper bark in a bowl.

See, he's got this all planned out. And the longer he makes himself focus on getting his plan in order, the longer he can put off the part where he realises what he's got himself into and panics.

Unfortunately, fiddling with the veil in front of the mirror to find the most covering arrangement is a total non-starter of a distraction, because hello, veil + candle light = a perfect recipe for next to zero functional vision. Lighting the incense is the work of ten seconds. And arranging himself in Lydia's bed while Lydia's not even here is… well, under the circumstances everything about the exercise is so mind-blowingly wrong that dwelling on it is only going make things worse. Also, he's been told he snores, so going to sleep while he pretends to be Lydia's unconscious body is right out of the question.

Good thing Stiles wasn't counting on getting any sleep tonight.

Two seconds after he's finished that thought he realises how that would sound if you didn't already know he's talking about lying here for hours paralysed with skull-crushing fear, and lets out a yelp of laughter that would definitely have blown his cover if his visitor had been here yet. Stiles slaps both hands over his mouth (outside the veil, thank you very much) and chortles in a silently hysterical manner until he feels tears start to seep out of his eyes. Oh god, what is he even doing? Playing bait for a sex demon that is probably going to laugh in his face before murdering him in Lydia's bed?

The cloying scent of the incense is starting to spread through the room now. It's supposed to have a calming effect, but Stiles would have to say he's really not feeling it just yet.

Okay. Okay. Calm down. Think about this reasonably. They have to give this a chance to work. What's the worst that could happen?

Well, logically, the worst that could happen is that it rapes Stiles to death, then goes downstairs and kills Scott, kills Jackson, then wakes Lydia up just long enough to show off all its handiwork before it…

Alright, on reflection, that isn't such a helpful line of thinking. The thing to remember is that if they hadn't gone for Stiles' plan, the worst cast scenario would still be the one where it not only gets to Lydia, but murders the rest of them too just because it can. So it's not like this is any worse; nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

After a few minutes of trying to make himself believe this, Stiles has to admit he'd have a better chance of convincing his gut to buy that one if his brilliant plan didn't involve effectively offering himself up to a murdering sex-demon on a platter.

Okay, focusing on the worst case scenario isn't all that comforting. Time to try best-case instead. Best case scenario: the incubus touches him and falls dead on the floor. Perfect! No mess, no fuss, Stiles saves the day.

Somehow his gut doesn't seem to be buying that one either.

Stiles takes a deep breath and tries out something more believable.

The incubus does… does its thing to him – the whole nine yards – but afterwards it falls off dead.

The incubus dies, but takes Stiles with it.

The incubus kills him but finds him so satisfying that it leaves for the night. Scott and Jackson hold out for two more nights until the hunters can come back to kill it, and everyone remembers his brave sacrifice forevermore.

Those all settle in with Stiles' sense of realism a little more easily, though it's weighing on him like a solid mass in his chest that it's taking so much work to come up with outcomes that go well for him here.

Hey, maybe it won't show up at all. Maybe it'll get halfway here and remember a very important letter it urgently needs to answer right away. Maybe it'll get lost or fly into a hurricane.

Maybe it'll use its demon-senses to track Lydia straight to the knights' quarters without coming through this room at all, and Stiles will have no idea he's the last living person in this castle until tomorrow morning.

Maybe he'll gas himself to death with his incense before it even arrives and whoever makes it out of this alive will write here lies Stiles Stilinski, an object lesson in where a little knowledge gets you on his gravestone.

Well there's a wagon's worth of thought that's going nowhere good.

Stiles makes himself think of Lydia – the reason he's putting himself through all this in the first place. How she looked at last year's midsummer festival, with flowers braided into the delicate weave of her hair; the way her skin glowed in the sunlight. He remembers the way he'd seen her simper and flirt with that self-absorbed prick of a visiting nobleman at the autumn feast, hanging on his every word like she wasn't longing to correct his outdated misinformation of the political situation on the eastern front and couldn't have run rings around his basic understanding of Latin conjugations, while he nattered on oblivious. (Stiles noticed, not that he'd spent his every free moment at that dinner staring at her or anything, but could he really be blamed? Once you'd noticed what was really going on under Lordling Sissypants' very nose, it was hard to look away. It was like watching a man rapt in expounding the best way of stabbing oneself in their own foot.)

Stiles gets it – he really does. With the scandal of Lord Martin's divorce still hanging over them, the Martin family is struggling to hold themselves together in more ways than they can ever afford to let on. For Lydia to marry a rich nobleman would make all the difference in the world, but lord knows she deserves so much better than those simple fools who haven't the slightest idea just how brilliant she is.

She deserves… god, she deserves so much better than what Stiles could ever hope to offer her even if they do both make it through the night.

So much for that line of thought working any better for him.

He needs to look at this differently. So the odds that this is going to be the great moment of heroism that finally makes her notice him are on the side of low; surely he can still enjoy some sort of irony that what got Lydia into Jackson's bed has now gotten Stiles into hers, and every bit as pointlessly. Now that he stops to appreciate it though, this is a really nice bed. He's hardly even been allowed to touch a real feather mattress before, but he could definitely become a convert to a lifetime of napping on a few dozen pounds of down. There've got to be worse places Stiles could have set himself up to lose his virginity.

…which is not what's going to happen tonight, because being on the receiving end of an unqualified level of personal violation by an evil incubus that was expecting a girl does not and will not count, unless Stiles decides it does.

And alright, if it distracts him from dwelling on the probability of his imminent demise, maybe it is time Stiles took a close look at the woolly mammoth that's been lurking over there in the corner all evening. There's a possibility – mixed in there somewhere along with all those other ways this could go for him tonight – that Stiles is going to enjoy this. Really enjoy this, with all the nudge-nudge-wink-wink innuendo mental italics could hope to imply. The incubus is a reputed to be demon that exudes such an incredible aura of raw sex appeal that its victims never even notice it's draining the life out of them until it's too late. Stiles is a virginal teenaged boy with a healthy libido. He has no idea what's going to happen tonight, but he'd be lying to himself if he ignored that little part of him that's maybe just a little interested in finding out.

Well. Technically speaking, he hasn't reached this age without putting together some idea. What little Stiles has gathered on the subject of sex over the course of his short life includes knowing that it's not necessarily an opposite-sexes-exclusive activity. His Dad's been warning him to be careful around a certain breed of older man (the ones that smile a certain way and find excuses to touch a little too freely; the craftsmen looking for something more than talent in a new apprentice at the fair) since he was a kid. Lydia has had a starring role in his fantasy life since before he had a fantasy life, but Stiles has also lived a long time now with the nagging suspicion that other boys his age don't make quite such a habit of sneaking down to watch the young knights train with their tunics pooled around their belts in warm weather as he does. So he's curious, and inclined to keep his options open. Nothing wrong with that.

Most of Stiles is trying very hard not to think about what 'the incubus has to be tricked into seducing a boy that it thinks is a girl' means for what's going to happen to him tonight, but. But he's not carved from stone, okay? Some of the flowery metaphors from that poem about what was expected to go on 'betwixt the loins' of the young lass (or lad) in question maybe did sound kind of appealing, if you turned it around a certain way. So maybe there's a little bit of Stiles that's anticipating this in a way that's not made solely out of desperation and misplaced responsibility.

Is there something wrong with him that he's thinking like that?

No, Stiles decides; no, because you know what? There is nothing wrong with thinking like that, because on the scale of all the ways this might go for him tonight, spending the experience so overwhelmed by the incubus's 'thrall' that he forgets what he's doing here is right up the top. Especially when the alternative way this might go for him, remembering the whole 'everything is opposite' theme, does not bear thinking about.

Stiles really hopes that looking at it that way doesn't mean he's believing exactly the wrong thing to make the magic work.

He's glad his father isn't here to see this. He hopes, a little hysterically, if he doesn't make it, that Scott will have the sense to lie about the details of how he died.

He wishes it hadn't been so long since he last saw his dad.

The sound of the shutters over the bedroom window being carefully pried open from the outside might just be the single loudest noise Stiles has ever heard in his life.

Stiles' whole body is suddenly frozen to the bed. Distantly, he wonders if there's any way to tell whether you're frozen because the thrall has started already or whether it's just ordinary soul-crushing terror, because if Stiles was freaking out before, it has nothing on how much he's freaking out now. The shock of cold air coming in through the window hits him like a blow; it feels like the temperature of the whole room just fell below freezing. Through the veil, Stiles can just make out the curve of the nearly-full moon peeking in under the top of the window – then it's gone, because there's something blocking the window. There's a black shape climbing into the room. Oh god, what is he even doing here? The demon is here and this is really happening and it's really here.

He's hardly given the chance to finish that thought before the scream breaks into the chamber, so loud and so immediate that for a second Stiles thinks it's coming from his own throat. But that doesn't make sense; it's too shrill and far too piercing to have come from anything human, let alone Stiles' very ordinary lungs.

When he next dares open his eyes again the window's empty. He can see the moon again – mostly, though it blinks in and out of view a few times as though something's passed in front of it. There's something moving out there, flailing like a flag in the breeze; once or twice he could almost imagine he's caught the outline of giant wings. Maybe he hears something too, but his ears are still ringing from that scream. His whole ribcage is still ringing from that scream. Stiles grips the edge of the sheets and tries to decide if he's panicking, or if he should be trying not to, or what.

By the time the ringing starts to fade there's not much to hear but for a faint rustling noise coming from outside. Then the moon is gone completely – there's something climbing in through the window again, followed by the faintest soft pat of feet hitting the floor.

Is this something incubi do? Loom in your window, scream at you, flail around for a while, then come in again? Stiles' research has failed to prepare him for any of this. He wishes he felt anywhere close to being up to holding onto a coherent thought right now, because he has the horrible feeling he's missing something important. But he doesn't have the first idea what, and any lingering hope he might have had of sorting out what he's supposed to do with what just happened evaporates into the ether when he feels the end of the mattress dip under someone else's weight.

Oh god, it's on the bed with him. Stiles' whole body goes tilting towards it when it plants a hand by his knee, and he's completely forgotten why he'd ever thought nice things about this mattress. Its luxurious texture only ensures he feels every move the incubus (which is really here and really on the bed with him) makes, magnified in agonising detail as it crawls up and over him, caging him between its limbs. Touch is all he's got to follow it with; he can't hardly see a thing through the veil in this light, and certainly not once the window vanishes under the black shape which is getting closer by the heartbeat. When he spots two glowing red pinpoints glaring at him out of the darkness he squeezes his eyes shut, and tells himself the idea in his head that he can still see its eyes through his own eyelids is just his imagination. He desperately hopes his incense is working, because from the way he can hear himself all but panting for breath, there's no chance he's putting up a convincing pretence of being asleep without magical masking.

The incubus takes forever to plant its hands by his shoulders, and then another small forever making itself comfortable, or whatever it's doing now that requires shifting its weight around so much. It still hasn't so much as touched him and Stiles is about to go mad from the waiting alone.

"Well," says – hell, purrs a voice so close Stiles can feel the words ghosting against his skin (that sound Stiles just made may have been an actual whimper). "You're not quite what I was expecting."

Too late, Stiles rediscovers the ability to lie perfectly still without breathing at all. Something – something with fingers – presses down over the middle of his chest, outside the blankets. There are several thick layers of bedclothes separating the incubus from Stiles' person in this arrangement – it's the middle of winter and hard times or otherwise, the Martins see no need to shiver their way through it. There is no natural explanation for why Stiles should be feeling the hand tracing down the length of his chest so keenly, not unless you blame it on the sensitising effect of fear, and even then... god, Stiles has had firewood splinters lodged under his skin he was less aware of than this. The incubus doesn't stop when it runs out of Stiles' chest, or when it reaches the base of his stomach, or when it drags beneath his pubic bone – and when it drops between Stiles' legs, Stiles is gasping aloud before he can even think to stifle it. It's not even about the pressure nearly so much as the promise in that touch; like the moment right before you jump to find out whether you can fly.

Three layers of blanket might as well be made of tissue because there's no way the incubus doesn't know exactly what it's feeling down there, or exactly what it's doing to Stiles, and suddenly fear alone isn't sounding like any kind of good excuse anymore.

"Hmm," rumbles the voice in Stiles' ear. "Now why do I have the suspicion this isn't your room?" and the last shred of hope Stiles had been hanging on that any part of his crazy plan might be salvageable snaps clean in two. "You wouldn't be the first servant offered to the beast in the place of the lord's beloved daughter. But between you and me," it goes on, voice taking on an almost conspiratorial tone, "the illusion works better when the servant isn't a boy. Most of us can manage to figure out the difference, unless…" The voice trails off. "Oh. You thought…"

If Stiles dies tonight, he'll go to the grave knowing the sound of an incubus chuckling. It's an odd, throaty hiss of a noise, and if that wasn't already bizarre enough, it almost seems to be inviting him to share the joke.

"You know, I thought that old wives' tale had gone out of fashion," says the incubus, conversationally, dragging its hand idly over the bulge Stiles' nether regions are contributing to the contours of the blanket, and he can't help it, he bucks upward into the pressure with a gasp. There's a shimmer of movement, and the voice is even closer, right against his chin when it says, "Never did imagine I'd find someone waiting for me someday who actually bought the idea we were so fragile," the incubus strokes a hand down his cheek, over the veil, "so incurious," the hand strokes back up again, "that any one of us would shy away from the invitation to lay our hands on a fine young man. Waste of good poetry, if you ask me. You'll find the truth…" The last is whispered right into his ear, "much more interesting."

Somehow, that's what does it. The incubus has made Stiles very awake and very much aware of his body, and what might be his last remaining survival instinct propels him off the bed to run for it. Or at least that's the idea, but the practice would have worked better if the incubus wasn't holding him down with such terrifying ease.

"Oh no you don't," it purrs. Stiles struggles under its weight, but the worst of it gets muffled by all those layers of blankets, and the only suggestion that what's left is causing his aggressor any sort of grief is a short, impatient sort of sigh, that Stiles feels as much as he hears it, a gust of air through the veil against his cheek.

"Don't be like that," it says. "Humans. So caught up in what you think you're seeing you never even notice what's really there."

Two things happen in quick succession; the first is the incubus shoving Stiles' incense pot off its rest by the bed to clatter onto the floor, spilling its embers onto the stone where they quickly extinguish in a last plume of smoke. The second involves the veil being ripped away from Stiles' face, giving him his first clear view of the room since all of this began.

Last night, when they'd burst into Lydia's room, so much had happened so fast that Stiles never had the chance to process more than his broadest impressions. (The black shape perched over Lydia's body. The red eyes glaring out of the gloom. The white teeth in a twisted grin, laughing at them even as it fled.) Stiles never had got as far as thinking about the incubus as having anything as ordinary as facial features until he looks at it again now and they're all wrong. The incubus he's looking at now looks younger, for a start. The jawline is sharper – the shape of its eyes, the curve of its lips – everything's different.

Under the glow of the moonlight it's not even completely black, now he's seeing it without the veil in the way. Its wings are shot through with a fascinating purple sheen that glistens when it moves, and its body is flecked with the same colour in strokes like an artist's shading lines. Over its face and chest even the purple gives way to the hue of human skin; darker than Stiles' own, but no more so than the colour some of the knights take on after a few weeks of training stripped to the waist in the summer sun. The comparison falls a little short there, however, because it doesn't seem right to compare this physique to theirs; the incubus's body isn't just broadly humanoid, it looks like a living sculpture. Hadn't it been all black last night? Stiles doesn't know what he's remembering anymore.

"You're not…" he breathes, but already he's second-guessing himself. Is this something incubi can do, change how they look to confuse their victims? Did it find someone else to drain the life out of last night, is that why it looks younger? (And why it looks so preposterously healthy?) But it's a little hard to concentrate on suspicious hypotheticals when the overwhelming impression is, "You're really attractive."

The corner of the incubus's mouth quirks upwards, and Stiles' heart skips a beat. It looks pleased. Oh god, Stiles made it pleased and he is in so much trouble if he's so happy about that. "You get that all the time, don't you?" he babbles.

This time it's less of a quirk of the lips and more of a slow rise of both corners, which lasts as the incubus leans down on its elbows, hovering over Stiles' face. "Why don't you tell me your name?" it says, like Stiles is stupid enough to give his name to a dangerous mythical being.

"It's Stiles," he says. Ha! It's not like that's his real name. Mythically speaking that doesn't even count.

"Stiles," echoes the incubus, and the way it makes that sound is a shiver that runs the whole length of Stiles' body. "Alright, Stiles. Here's how this is going to go. You and I are going to have sex. And while I'm making you come harder than you ever dreamed of coming before, I can drain the last drop of life out of your body – or you can swear to me you'll never to breathe a word of what happens tonight to another living soul, and I'll let you live to keep your word. Your choice."

"What?" Hearing the incubus say 'sex' may have fried what little of his brain was left (and if that was an accident, then Stiles is a werewolf), because Stiles could have sworn it just offered him a choice. "Is this a trick question? Please don't take that the wrong way." So tonight has already proven Stiles is no expert on all things incubi, but he's pretty sure they don't do this. They don't leave their victims alive, they don't give them choices.

"Obviously," says the incubus, like the smug bastard that it is.

"Ugh, you're a legendary sex demon, of course it's a trick question!" He's babbling to clear his head and buy himself time – which the incubus actually seems to be giving him, going by the way it's shifting its weight to one arm and hasn't demanded an answer immediately. Okay. Stiles knows this stuff. Contracts with demons are serious business and dangerous territory, and Stiles has zero leverage. It's messing with him. It's not even pretending not to be messing with him. Odds are it's not going to honour either choice and this is all part of the same thing it's doing with its face – lulling him into a false sense of security to make him more pliable. In fact, that's probably the best case scenario. "Can I ask a question?"

"Long as you understand I don't promise an answer," says the incubus, shrugging a shoulder, which is probably the best Stiles could have hoped to get.

"If you don't kill me, are you going to kill someone else instead?"

"Hm," says the incubus. "No."


"That's your answer."

Stiles swallows. "Am I going to- "

"One question, Stiles," the incubus reminds him. "Now choose."

None of this is fair, but it's not like he came in here tonight expecting fair play from an incubus. All he's sure of is that giving a demon permission to kill you would have to be the height of insanity, even when you know it's trying to trick you.

"Um. I'd really like not to die tonight. Or any time soon, if that works for you," he says, then kicks himself mentally. What is he, stupid? "Actually, even if that doesn't work for you. The option where no-one in the tower dies tonight and you just leave when you're done with me is the one I'm choosing. If that's what's on offer." Okay, that's a little better.

The incubus runs its tongue over its teeth, capturing Stiles' attention in a way that knocks the breath out of him, and it says something that might be, "Excellent choice, Stiles," but he's not entirely sure because that's when it kisses him and he starts losing time.

He loses quite a lot of time there, actually. Probably. It's hard to tell.

He doesn't get it back again until that mouth is leaving his. Until he's not being opened up under its tongue, the incubus learning him from the inside and inviting Stiles to do the same; not discovering in an endless rush just how sensitive his lips truly are. No-one has ever kissed Stiles before and he doesn't want the incubus not to be kissing him, possibly ever again. The moment it leaves he's chasing it up and away – can't let it get away like that, and wouldn't be except that there's something pressing him gently but firmly down into the bed, shushing quietly in his ear.

"Easy," the incubus whispers, like that word means anything to Stiles anymore, "we've got all night."

"Oh my god." Coming back down to where his brain can understand words again, Stiles has a flash of understanding, and suddenly he knows on a horribly intimate level how what they're doing here can kill people. It's dawning on him that if that offer really was a lie, this might not be such a bad way to go. And because Stiles is Stiles and he wouldn't know how not to get ahead of himself, it's sinking in that that might be a mercy, to have had this and then not have to deal with the possibility of there being a time when he doesn't have this – what's going to be the rest of his life if he makes it through tonight.

There's a flash of white above him – teeth; not fangs, the incisors are hardly even pointed; this thing has teeth like a human and he doesn't even know why that knocks the breath out of him all over again and delays where he puts it together that it's grinning at him another several seconds longer than it should have taken. He doesn't even know what to do with that, except that he's got the idea it can see him in this light a lot better than Stiles can see it, can probably see right through him and it... oh god, it likes what it sees.

"Gooood, isn't it?" says the incubus, dragging out that vowel to a length that is fucking indecent; the way it's talking instead of doing fucking indecent things to Stiles with that mouth is fucking indecent, and if Stiles wasn't next to sure the damn thing is reading his damn mind already and knows perfectly damn well what it's doing to him, he'd tell it that. Somehow.

"Oh yeah," he breathes. By his standards, that has to count as positively speechless.

The incubus runs a finger along the edge of the sheets lying over Stiles' chest. "Why don't we get these out of the way?"

Stiles is completely on board with that.

The bedclothes do not go without a fight, Stiles pushing while the incubus pulls. Most of the layers are firmly tucked in underneath the combined weight of the mattress and his body, and by the time it dawns on him he could have saved a lot of fuss by removing himself from underneath them rather than the reverse, they're too far into the job of tearing the bed apart to change strategy. The air outside is a shock of cold against his skin – it's a freezing night and only worse for the window having been left open – but the worst of it fades quickly. Mostly he decides that's not worth questioning; maybe incubi radiate warmth, or mess with your metabolism as well as your better judgement, like how… holy… what is he doing? Was he seriously just about to climb out of bed of his own accord to let it get at him?

Stiles looks down at himself, then up, then down again. "You're letting me move now?"

"They always think you're going to do all the work for them," mutters the incubus, balancing its weight on one side and tossing the last of the blankets away, though there's not a lot of bite in its tone. It hops back over him, looming large and so tantalisingly just out of reach. "Why shouldn't I?" The incubus digs a finger into the hollow over Stiles' collarbones and drags it slowly up his neck, under his chin; dragging the whole universe down to that one point of contact. "You planning on running for the door?"

No. God, no, thinks Stiles. What he says is, "So you can drag me back here again?"

"Maybe I would." The incubus runs a knuckle curiously down the side of his neck; breathes out a moist gust of warm air over the same place, and Stiles forgets he was ever cold. "Maybe I'd let you go."

"What?" says Stiles.

"Maybe I'd leave," repeats the incubus. "That's what I agreed to do, when we're done, right? You're not the only warm body on this side of the country, Stiles." The possessive curl of the fingers of its other hand around his wrist make a lie of the threat, but the very idea still makes Stiles' blood run cold.

"But you said… you just made…" he stutters. "Oh you evil... you are evil!"

The incubus laughs, draws the captured wrist to its mouth and sinks its teeth ever so lightly into the soft skin beneath his palm. His hand is so close to its face; it's had its hands all over him and Stiles hasn't even been allowed to touch it yet. He watches his fingers twitch involuntarily.

"You want me to hold you down while we do this, Stiles?" says the incubus, cheek turned into his palm. The curve of its brow is hovering just under Stiles thumb, if he bent it just a little…

In one sudden movement the incubus has Stiles' arm wrenched over his head and pinned it by the wrist below the headboard. "Would that make this easier for you?"

Stiles swallows and accepts that his heartbeat isn't about to slow down again any time soon. "Maybe?"

"You really think that's what we do? You think we need to? Ever?" (Actually, Stiles has half an idea that 'thinking' isn't much of good description of anything that's gone through his head for a good few minutes. It's so unfair of it to pick on him for that.) "We get our hands on a virgin teenaged boy, and we waste our strength holding him down while he begs us for it?"

Stiles gets momentarily stuck on the word 'virgin'. "…is it that obvious?" Possibly he's trying to prove how not up to thinking he is anymore. The incubus raises its eyebrows at him.

"What do you want, Stiles?" it purrs. "You want me to leave? Or do… you want… me?"

In some tiny, distant part of his mind, Stiles thinks this is how it starts. He admits to wanting this, he agrees to more, and within an hour he'll be begging it to take his life just as long as it lets him come before it all blacks out. If he said no they'd both know he was lying.

But miraculously, the incubus takes pity on him, curls a hand under his head and kisses him again until Stiles can hardly remember the question, let alone whatever he was going to say. This time, when it pulls away it does so with a slow drag of teeth over his lower lip that makes his eyes flutter closed; distantly and stupidly proud that this time he doesn't end up trying to chase after it for more. See? Self-control. Like it said, they've got all night. So what if Stiles doesn't have a chance in hell of lasting that long.

His eyes fall on its chest when he opens them, leading to a snap realisation that he hasn't spent nearly enough time appreciating it yet. The flush of pale-coloured skin that makes up the incubus's soft underbelly is hopelessly mesmerising; it almost glows in the moonlight. He still can't get over how human it looks – it has nipples, abdominal muscles, a belly-button – his fingers itch to touch; it's on the tip of his tongue to ask for permission, but the words get stuck there as his eyes dip lower still.

Oh. That's. That's its cock, curving thick and hard up beneath its stomach. Are incubi always like that or is it… is it hard because of him? Why is he still thinking of the incubus as an 'it' when he has no possible doubt left about its physical sex?

The incubus makes a noise that just about passes for a polite cough. Stiles whips his attention back to its face and says, "Um."

"Now you've got me at a disadvantage." The incubus turns its attention down to the nightdress Stiles is still wearing. He'd swear the look it flicks up at him clearly spells every last thing it's thinking about his choice of night-wear, and he has his mouth open to defend himself before it takes one long claw to the bodice and rips the whole dress clean down the middle.

Huh. Claws. Handy, Stiles thinks, vaguely. Wait, didn't he…?

The incubus flicks another look at him and grins at him for a second (it has fangs, what…?). It dips the tip of its index finger, the very point of its claw, into his naval, ever so gently, then drags it back up the line of the centre of his chest while Stiles tries very hard not to breathe. He doesn't know whether to believe what he's feeling until the incubus flicks its finger up again off the top of his chest, showing him a neat, blunt nail.

"Nice trick," he offers, weakly. Then, "Oh, Jesus," because now the incubus is following that same path with its tongue.

By the time it gets to his neck and applies that terrible mouth sucking a kiss beneath his ear, Stiles is losing time again. He remembers reaching for it at last, getting his hands up behind its body, feeling the shape of its wings where they curve into its shoulders; its skin is so smooth and warm, like nothing he'd expected; the thrill when it lets him tug it down, draw them together. He remembers the drag of teeth along his jaw as they line up against each other, as the incubus eases its chest down against his own. He remembers the touch of a hand tracing down his side to dip into the crease of his hip, tracing the flesh of his inner thigh until he almost goes mad from wanting; until stroking turns into guiding his leg up to hook around the back of its knees and wrap their bodies into each other, so Stiles can finally thrust up against it. He loses everything for a while after that, until it rocks back down and shows him how to find a rhythm, and kisses him again at last, and Stiles knows he's ruined. He's never done this before with anyone and nothing is going to match up to this ever again.

When the incubus murmurs, "Like that, don't you?" Stiles should have had a smart reply ready – is sex with him so mind-melting the best it has left is mastering the obvious? – but he's so far past that now. He's not just ruined, he's wrecked. How hasn't he come already? He whimpers and bucks up, harder, trying to get closer, but the incubus' fingers are back on his thigh, holding their distance and it rides out the motion easily. "I need…" he begs.

"Shh," whispers the incubus, and Stiles wants to laugh at it. So he does, or he tries, the sound stuttering out when it releases his thigh in favour of wrapping its hand around both of their cocks and stroking them together. Stiles forgets how to breathe again, which doesn't work so well because – forget shushing him – Stiles just lost all the air in his lungs yelling or moaning or whatever that noise was and he doesn't know what to do next. The incubus's rhythm feels calculated to wring him dry. Fuck, it's hardly a rhythm at all – it's making him wait what feels like eternity between each sharp, upward tug, gliding its hand back down so horribly slowly in between. There's a slick moisture coating them both; Stiles almost decides it's his own semen except that he can't have come yet, how could he have come and still be so hard?

"Patience, Stiles," the incubus whispers to his skin. Stiles gulps for air.

"How have I not come yet?" he says – he will not let it be a whine. "Are you… is it you? Are you not letting me, with your incubus-thing?"

"Am I going to have to explain 'patience' to you?" says the incubus, though it would be a lot more convincing about losing patience with Stiles' impatience if it didn't sound so pleased with itself. "You haven't come because we're. Not. Done. Yet."

Because it truly is evil and clearly wants Stiles to know it, the incubus lets go of him, trailing its hand lower, over his balls. Before he can protest or offer it his firstborn or whatever was about to come out of him, it thrusts savagely down into his body and while he's still reeling from that, it finds a spot behind his balls Stiles would swear didn't even exist before today, and presses on it until it makes him keen. "Do you know why we're not done yet Stiles? Do I need to explain that to you too?"

It thrusts again and the only thing left grounding him anymore is its voice in his ear saying, "We're not done because I'm not ready to come yet. And I'm not going to be ready to come until I'm inside you." And it's still rubbing on that spot but there's another finger exploring further back still, it's teasing at his… oh. The only coherent thought in Stiles' head while the incubus' finger slides inside him is that apparently everything he wasn't sure he'd understood about what those shifty older men might want to do to him was right. Good for him?

Stiles says, "Oh god." He says, "Oh god, you're going to…?"

"Mm-hm." The incubus twists its fingers. Stiles lets out a sob.

"Do it," he begs. "Please, do it, just do it already!"

"Are you sure you're ready for that, Stiles?"

Stiles has no idea what it means; he's been ready for this forever.

"Yeaaah," groans the incubus, "you're ready," and it's moving, shifting their positions, it's got its hand on his hip now and it doesn't waste a second lining them up, just sinks its teeth into his shoulder and thrusts, and Stiles is pretty sure he actually whites out for a moment.

"Stiles." It's the stutter in its voice that makes him open his eyes again. His name on its lips was a hiss and a moan and when he looks it in the eye again, god he wasn't wrong. Are they both shaking? It looks like it's barely holding itself together, like the only air in the room it can get to are the panted exhales from Stiles' lips. It's inside him, it's hitting that same spot from the inside and he almost doesn't care because just the idea of what it's doing to him has him in pieces.

He… fuck, he'd wanted this to be over before he got to have this? What if it had listened? What was wrong with him?

He watches as the incubus gathers itself, draws its lips in one last feral grin and then it pounces. Locks its mouth on Stiles' and thrusts into him with a fury he doesn't have words for. Stiles is dimly aware of one of his legs wrapped tight around its waist; the other lying sort of awkwardly loose, and there's no way he's built to take this sort of battering without feeling it; of its hands, one wrapped around his neck and the other into his side, then clenched in the mattress either side of him when kissing becomes too difficult for either of them to keep up. None of that matters to him worth a damn. The way it feels – it's not being gentle, it's not going slow; there is none of that agonising teasing from before. Every thrust sets his whole body on fire, lit up with sensation he's sure he was never even built for. Stiles is beyond losing time; beyond it and somewhere in the land of perfect clarity on the far side where he's aware of everything and it's taking all he's got to keep hold of half of it. His whole life has been building up to this moment and it can't last long enough. It said they had all night and he wants that – he doesn't care if it's impossible – he never wants this to end.

He watches it arch above him, mouth wide, wings spread, before collapsing back down into him.

"Stiles," it whispers, one last time. It sounds broken, and god, he doesn't even know its name; how can they have done all this and Stiles doesn't even know his…

(Coming under the incubus's hands is such absolute bliss, so endless and so consuming that this time, Stiles really does black out altogether.)