Stiles demands to know where Derek has already been, which should make Derek want to snarl, but doesn't. He tells him, in an economy of vocabulary that has Stiles snarking about his ebullience. He actually uses the word 'ebullience'. And Derek doesn't say that of course he's eager to snap this wendigo in two, because that's a statement floating in a gray sea of 'maybe not' and he decided a while ago that he'll lie by omission, but not by intention. Not after Peter.
Derek will kill because he has to, not because he wants to. Because someone has to stop this menace and he has the power to do it. He takes care of his own, and if that's the whole town of Beacon Hills then so be it. But he doesn't relish the idea as much as he suspects he should. Not in the way Laura attempted to train him to. Killing always feels like a hollow victory.
Stiles immediately thinks of ten other places they could be staking out in order to find the wendigo, and Derek thinks he'd thank his lucky stars a tactician like Stiles is on his side, if Stiles was actually on his side. He drives, because Stiles' Jeep is in the shop, and even if it hadn't been, Derek doesn't think they're making it back before four in the morning, the time Stiles said his dad would be home. Stiles seems resigned to his fate, and has stopped complaining. About this expedition. He doesn't stop complaining about school. Derek can't find it within him to sympathize, because he's never gotten to finish school and he's always wished he could. When he says that, Stiles' mouth falls open and he gapes at him for minutes.
"Wow," Stiles says eventually. "That's --- something. I don't know what. Over-sharing, maybe?"
"Just trying to teach you a lesson," he replies.
But it wasn't that, not really. It was other things. Like the fact Stiles is the only person he can fully be his human side around. When he thinks about that, really considers it, he realizes that's by his own design. In assembling his pack he picked people he thought would need a leader, would worship a flawless, all-knowing force, so he has to be that flawless, all-knowing force. And it hasn't been working, but he doesn't know what to change so that it will. With Scott, he has to seem like he's a worthwhile cause as an ally, someone who needs a little assistance, but can mostly provide assistance to Scott. Since Stiles is probably never truly going to believe any of those things, too smart to fall for the lies, he can strip off his masks one by one. Stiles doesn't care that he's grouchy --- he expects it. Doesn't worry about his sarcasm --- he can effortlessly match it. Doesn't think he's perfect, or should be perfect --- quite the opposite.
Outer suburban Beacon Hills is more like a wasteland post-'GFC', which is not something he's ever had much reason to care about, he has enough money to be getting by with. Unlike the former residents here. There are abandoned shops and houses, wrecked cars on the side of the road. In New York, during reminiscing, Derek didn't think it was possible that Beacon Hills had suburbs, and maybe, technically, it doesn't. But there are pockets of Beacon Hills that civilization has left to decay, collections of streets that were once thriving and are now gathering mold. And wendigos, potentially. There are five empty, crumbling houses along this street and all of them could be a safe-haven for his prey. Their prey.
Derek climbs out of the car and Stiles follows, because he may simply be insane, but his brand of insanity looks like bravery. Derek tilts his head to the side, tries to pick up a clue on whether the wendigo has been near, is almost decided it has when Stiles interrupts.
"So what are you thinking here?"
"I'm not," Derek answers, carefully. "I'm trying to pick up a scent."
Stiles mercifully goes silent and Derek tries again, and, yes, there's a rotting, sickly-sweet and fetid smell coming from the house to their right. He doesn't think it's strong enough that the wendigo is still lurking, but he drags Stiles behind him anyway. He vaults over the fence, indicates for Stiles to follow. Soon, they're crouched down in the backyard, surrounded by over-grown bushes, blackened in the night-time, and half-dead besides. Derek's listening in for any sign of movement. He wants to be positive the wendigo's cleared out before he raids the house for clues.
"Wouldn't you have been able to trap the wendigo if you'd brought your pack? Or Scott?"
"Maybe," Derek says. "But it's too great a risk. I don't want to put any unnecessary lives on the line."
Stiles' voice rises in pitch. "Then why am I here?"
"You offered. And you said it yourself --- you're my personal Google." He leans in close to Stiles, whispers in his ear. "You're my own walking, talking Wikipedia."
Derek feels his claws digging into the dirt with his delight at Stiles' indignant expression. He turns his head away so Stiles won't see any other aspects of his shift. It's only in remembering how recently the wendigo was in the area that he can bring himself back.
"No. Of course. I'm expendable," Stiles says. He sounds strange, like something's caught in his throat. And Derek thinks maybe his teasing went a little too far, which makes him feel almost guilty. He's not a heartless monster. If anything, his heart is annoyingly omnipresent.
"I can rescue one puny human," Derek corrects, "but four werewolves? Dumbass teenaged werewolves? More trouble than they're worth."
Stiles does his best impression of a goldfish, stumbling as he follows Derek creeping toward the house. The windows are all broken, so getting in won't be an issue. Derek can't hear another heart beat and the stench in the house smells diluted, like it's a remnant of a scent. He opens up the nearest window and slinks inside, turning back around to offer Stiles his hand. When Stiles stares as it as opposed to taking it, he grasps the scruff of Stiles' jacket and hauls him up.
"I think the wendigo vacated a day ago, but stay close, stay silent, just in case."
Stiles nods and stays close enough that his breath jets against Derek's neck. It's disconcerting how his own breathing falls into the same tempo; quick and shallow. He doesn't know what he's expecting to find that'll give them any hint of where the wendigo's gone next. This is the first time he's encountered one. He remembers bedtime horror stories, told by Laura as he and his cousins cowered around campfires in the woods. It should have taken a lot to scare him, he'd always known he'd grow up faster, stronger than Joey or Beth, but he thinks he was the most afraid. Nothing like staring into the monster to find the monster staring back at him. Most of the time he's not ashamed by who or what he is. He's proud of his legacy. But there are times it's more curse than gift. He needs to remind himself that wendigos aren't like werewolves. They don't have the same conscience, the same agency. Their instincts drive them totally beyond control, in every way. He could think of it as putting the wendigo out of its misery, because it's bound in an endless cycle of starvation. The more it eats the more it needs to eat.
They find some remains in what would once have been the kitchen, which is disgustingly apt. Shriveled up skin and gelatinous fat. Blood. Some of the skin belongs to the wendigo, probably peeled off as it expanded. Stiles gags and Derek thumps him on the back, because he wants the noise to stop. Stiles glares up at him with moistened eyes.
"Remind me never to agree to come out with you in the dead of night again," he grouses, covering his mouth and nose.
"Have you seen anything that gives you any indication of where the wendigo has gone?"
"Not r..." Stiles says. He tails off and bends closer to the body. He looks like he's going to puke as he pries apart what would once have been a hand, and points at a flesh-covered ring. "Help me get this thing off," he says between racking wheezes.
Derek bends down, clasps his hand over Stiles' and helps pull. There's a crack and then a squelch, and the whole finger is coming off the corpse, bone protruding from the bottom. Derek holds onto it as Stiles catapults himself across the room and loses what sounds like every meal he's eaten in the last decade. Derek goes to the sink and eases off the ring, washes away the blood and gore. It's clunky costume jewellery; a large black oval masquerading as opal in the center of rhinestones. After several minutes, Stiles joins him. He's pale, clammy, but determined as he takes the ring and holds it up to the dim light cascading in from the cracked kitchen window. Derek feels a swell of something suspiciously like pride as he watches Stiles shake off his horror at the grotesque situation.
"I know the victim," Stiles says. "Maisy. She frequents the homeless shelter. Or, she used to, I guess. Do you think the wendigo would be smart enough to use the place as a grocer's? An all you can eat buffet?"
"Could be. That's what I'd do."
"Not young enough there for your tastes, surely?" Stiles retorts, but there's no heat to his words. Derek takes them in the spirit they were intended and growls menacingly, but makes no move to attack.
They go back outside, away from the sight and smell of the rotting corpse. Maisy. The sky is illuminated only by the crescent moon muffled by clouds. Otherwise, it's the kind of pitch black that only comes before dawn on a winter's day. Derek is fairly sure the wendigo would be back by now if it was planning on spending the day sleeping there. It must have another hideaway. He says this and Stiles agrees, pulling his jacket tighter.
"But only the one," he says, "because they're creatures of habit. All the literature says they like to settle down once they've found a prime feeding spot. They deplete the area of its resources and then move on. It's why they're associated with greed."
"So you recommend staking out this house and the homeless shelter?" Derek asks.
Stiles shrugs a shoulder. "Can't hurt. But it can't be now, because some of us have school in four short hours."
"Fine. I'll drive you back."
In the car, Derek turns up the heat. He says to himself it's because he's cold, but since he's not, he's lying again. Stiles stops shivering and seems to be having an internal debate before he finally speaks.
"Do you want me to ask Scott and Allison for help?"
"Not especially, but I get the feeling you're going to regardless."
Stiles speaks at speed, words tumbling over one another. "Allison can cover Scott while I cover you. That way both damsels in distress can be rescued should anything fail. I'll let you decide who they are. I think it could work. I mean, if you still don't wanna get your puppies involved."
"I don't like it."
"Of course you don't, because it isn't the worst plan ever invented and it requires you trusting someone other than yourself. You don't have to be a lone wolf all the time."
Derek scowls at the streetlights. "Okay. Since tonight hasn't exactly yielded the results I was hoping for, I suppose I'll have to settle for plan F."
"This wasn't a success in your view?" Stiles asks. There's a mocking note in his tone. "You did say we'd be hunting the wendigo. You never said anything about killing it."
Derek taps him on the shoulder. Judging by Stiles' wince and watering eyes, he may have tapped a little hard.
Stiles doesn't know how to start the conversation. Somehow he doesn't think, 'hey, Scott, guess who I spent the night with?' would be all that helpful. There's something within him that shamefully doesn't want to start the conversation and is cursing the rest of him for suggesting to drag Scott and Allison into wendigo-watch 2012. Something that wants to keep this time with Derek as a secret, locked away in the private part of his mind that spent years cataloging every time Lydia so much as glanced in his direction.
The problem is, Stiles has begun to find himself looking forward to being in Derek's vicinity. Derek's starting to seem almost human --- which Stiles is sure is probably an insult of the highest order, and if he said it out loud he'd get bitten so hard, in the 'death by wolf' kind of way, not the "are you trying to seduce me, Mr Hale?" kind of way. If not human, Derek does have flashes of personality. One that's kind of wry and slyly self-deprecating and painfully honest. And this appeals to Stiles' morbid curiosity and unhealthy fixation on all things Derek. Which he should have gotten over months ago. And still somehow hasn't.
Yeah, Stiles should have already brought up that he'd love Scott's help, since he needs it in about six hours, but he makes excuses every time he gets close. He also falls asleep in econ, English, and chemistry. Eventually, as they sit together in the locker room after a Lacrosse practice in which Stiles fell over in excess of nine times, and Stiles stifles yet another yawn, Scott demands to know what's going on and Stiles has no real recourse.
"You know Derek?" Stiles leads with, because he is nothing if not a master procrastinator.
Stiles totally isn't compelled to defend Derek in any way. "Well, he needs help finding a wendigo and I was that help last night. I was hoping that you and Allison could be that help tonight."
Scott's look of confusion is as frustrating as it is endearing. "Why?"
"Wendigos eat humans and werewolves alike, gorging on their flesh, unable to quench their hunger, until finally there are no more humans or werewolves to eat. They're vicious and damn near unstoppable, and there's one in Beacon Hills. Also, because I asked."
Scott looks somewhat guilt-stricken. This has been a bone of contention between them, since Stiles finally snapped and finished a three paragraph rant on the many suckitudes of being Scott's best friend with, "I have helped you unquestioningly a thousand times, you don't think you could return the favor just once?" And, okay, so the rant had been inspired because Scott wouldn't give him his left over curly fries on the grounds he'd had one of them in his mouth and couldn't say for sure which it was. But the point had been driven home, Stiles thought. He hadn't kept his anger bottled for once. And maybe the extra Scott flavoring was the best thing ever, or perhaps it was just the taste of victory, but those curly fries were good.
"What do you need me to do?"
"Help me to convince Allison to bring her bow when we meet my place at nine?"
Scott smiles beguilingly at him. Stiles just knows he's thinking about spending the evening with Allison. "Okay," he says, dreamily. He scrunches up his face, next, as if a thought has just occurred to him. "I can't believe we're helping Derek. Again."
"Maybe next time he'll help us?"
"You don't really mean that," Scott says.
"I don't not mean it?"
Scott's expression becomes one of worry. "Has Derek done some kind of mind control thing on you?"
"No," Stiles says, scoffing maybe a little too obviously. A method actor he is not. He just knew who the hell Impey Barbicane was, he thinks. He valued my expertise and my opinion.
Allison is worryingly on board with the whole mission. Sometimes Stiles forgets that she comes from a family of hunters. She and Scott spend so much of their time acting like there isn't this huge fissure between them, Stiles falls under the delusion too. She starts to list off weaponry that would be useful and listens carefully to Stiles' description of the wendigo, like she's mentally tallying its strengths and weaknesses. She's as terrifying as she is hot, and Stiles is so not questioning his psyche right now that the scarier seems to be the better when it comes to raising his blood pressure.
"We're helping Derek?" she asks, frowning slightly.
"It's more about finding and killing a wendigo," Stiles justifies. "Which means there can be no kissyface going on tonight. I'm relying on both of you being on your game."
"I'm offended you'd feel the need to suggest such a thing," Scott says, not even looking at Stiles as he does so.
Stiles had initially suggested to Derek that maybe it would work better if they split the lovebirds up. Derek had silenced him with a glare, and surprisingly, whole sentences. There was no way he was going to work alongside Allison Argent. There was also no way he was going to leave the two ordinary humans to fend for themselves. No, not even if one of them has a razor-sharp tongue and the other a bow and exploding arrows.
"I won't let you down, Stiles," Allison adds seriously. A twinkle comes into her eye, belying the tone of her voice. "No kissyface going on. Not even a little."
Stiles blows away imaginary bangs, his eyelids drooping once more. Maybe he can have a nap for an hour or two when he gets home?
Derek stares at a sleeping Stiles and is thankful he's just irritated enough that he can restrain the wolf. Stiles looks small --- like something to be protected, and peaceful --- like something to be curled up next to. And they have a job to do, so he should stop that right this second. Derek takes the bottle of water by Stiles' bed and unscrews the lid, doesn't feel bad when he has it hovering in wait. Three drops fall onto Stiles' opened lips, and for a second, more, Stiles simply smacks his lips together. Derek tips the bottle and watches water cascade right over Stiles' face, rivulets sliding down his neck. Stiles awakens with a splutter and a lot of swearing.
"Holy shit, Derek," he yells.
"Get up," Derek returns.
Stiles looks completely murderous as he changes his shirt and pulls on a thick sweater. Derek should avert his eyes and doesn't, because he's surprised that Stiles isn't actually as scrawny as he's been assuming. He's more wiry, and maybe, if he's lucky, could be trained to fight if any time was put into it. Derek thinks about suggesting that. If they're going to work together, they might as well be the best they can be.
"Scott and Allison are already at the house," Derek says when Stiles looks down his street, clearly waiting.
Stiles hurriedly looks at his phone, mouth going wide and curling down as he realizes Derek allowed him twenty-five minutes rest before taking matters into his own hands.
They drive to the homeless shelter in uncomfortable silence. Stiles is radiating guilt and something else, something more like shame or disappointment. Derek has never had any skills with small talk. Half an hour goes by in the same silence, and then, finally, Stiles starts to speak. Derek isn't any good at tuning him out, doesn't especially want to be. Stiles doesn't complain about schoolwork this time. It's a very obvious avoidance. Instead, he explains about Lacrosse, and Derek doesn't tell him he knows all about the sport, that he used to play, even had a College scholarship in the pipelines that he was never going to take due to his unfair advantage, because Stiles would accuse him of 'over-sharing'. Stiles talks about pranks played on visiting teams, including one in which they successfully convinced their opponents they practiced using pineapples instead of balls.
Derek has to respond to that. "You cannot be serious. They fell for that?"
"Yeah, I have to agree, that was dumb. That was 'thinking everyone named Scott is Scottish' levels of stupid."
Derek finds himself giving what can only be described as an undignified snort, his teeth growing longer in his mouth, but Stiles hasn't seemed to notice. He hates that he wants to push this. He wishes hate was the same as anger.
"That was you, wasn't it?" his traitorous mouth says. "You believed that?"
"I was six! I have an excuse. Unlike Scott who I'm pretty sure still believes it."
Derek does laugh at this, the sound coming out as a low rumble. He can feel his hackles rising, his nose lengthening. The pain is mild, these days, which doesn't help even a little. Damn Stiles, who has finally taken notice, and does not look like he wants to be in a car with him right now. Or within the next millennium. Stiles has one hand on the door handle, the other on the dash.
"Look, I'm sorry, okay. I didn't know you were so fond. I love Scott, you know that, he's my best friend. If this is some kind of werewolf defense, then, please, turn it down to DEFCON 5, because I told my dad I'd be cooking dinner tomorrow and I don't like being a liar."
At 'I love Scott', Derek's anger slams welcomingly into place, which is not actually a good sign, when he comes to think about it. But it helps him wrest control of his transformation, and finally, he's glaring without baring his teeth, human-looking in the rear-view mirror once more. As human-looking as he ever gets.
Silence descends in the car once more. Stiles is jittery and Derek's trying really hard not to care. He's wondering, not for the first time, what would happen if he just admitted to Stiles what was going on. He could already imagine the conversation. There would be a lot of punctuation, hand-gestures, high-pitched whines, growls, and unfinished sentences. Stiles would be all horrified eyes and, later, when he realized Derek wasn't joking; mocking smiles. He'd take the information and use it as collateral, deep-seated betrayal effectively rendering the whole thing null and void. And Derek doesn't think he could handle that. Because the same horrible part of him that's giving him this hell in the first place doesn't want it to stop.
He knows he should. He has to have control. He has to stop enjoying Stiles so much, and this would be the best way to do that. Ammunition. But the horrible part of him is larger than the honorable one. Not a surprise, in human terms --- werewolf. It is a surprise to him. He wants control, but he doesn't want to sacrifice the small snatches of happiness he gets with Stiles to win it.
There's a part of Derek, even tinier than his honor, that insists that Stiles would grow to use the truth as something other than a weapon. That, in understanding Derek, he might actually learn to like him enough to want to spend time with him. That he would say or do things just to make Derek not miserable. And that this would be better than good. Derek doesn't listen to that part of himself.
"You know," Stiles says after a while, breaking into the frigid air between them. "You might want to stop buying hair product for a couple of weeks and purchase a sense of humor instead."
Derek has to dig his claws into his thigh to stop from going Alpha.
"Shut up, Stiles."
The wendigo doesn't show, not at the shelter, not at the house. Scott and Allison pledge more time to the cause, which is about the only win, in Stiles' book. Stiles guesses he should be pleased that he only has to deal with two supernatural beings, but actually it's anti-climactic. And while he's certainly feared for his life more than once, there's been no running, so he hasn't even gotten his daily work-out. Derek is weird dropping him off. Weirder. Derek is totally bizarre. Stiles mutters something about seeing him whenever --- 'which, knowing you, is in like ten minutes, tops,' and Derek's face does this thing. This twitchy, flexible thing Stiles' face sometimes feels like it's doing. Sort of ten expressions in one. They've been spending way too much time together. Then Derek gives an aborted wave and is driving off. When Stiles thinks about the emotions he saw --- and wow, emotions, from Derek, that sure is something to write home about; or would be if he wasn't already home --- he thinks there was actually something resembling a smile.