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Something that Finds You

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Stiles always smelled like sulfur.

It wasn't thick, not like he rolled in it, but it was there, and it never went away, teasing the edges of his senses constantly. He hated it. It made him restless, distrustful and snappish even when Stiles hadn't done anything to earn it. Even when he'd done the exact opposite of deserving it, throwing himself into danger over and over without batting an eye at the risk to himself.

Kate had smelled like sulfur too, sometimes, from the box of matches in her purse. Every now and then, she'd strike one and watch it burn with a grin. She liked fire, she'd said. He'd found one of the matches in his pocket, three days after the fire.

By then, everything had smelled like sulfur.

The problem wasn't that Stiles reeked of bad memories. Derek could deal with bad memories; he'd had six years to get used to them, and he'd have the rest of his life to put them to rest. But if Stiles reeked of bad memories, everything else reeked of Stiles. And what was worse was that it was all in his head. It had to be, because there was no way that one human person could have so thoroughly scent marked a whole town.

He couldn't get away from it. In the supermarket, he'd pass the soap aisle and get a hint of it, mixed with the soap Stiles usually used. Running through the woods, there was teenage lust and growing things and the years-old scent of the last underbrush burn off. Even in his own home, which he knew Stiles had never spent any real time in, he couldn't escape it. There was no rest, no chance to breathe that wasn't filled with the scent of teenage boy and adrenalin and pack and sulfur. If there were people around, a hint of bright flannel in the corner of his eye was enough to make him turn expectantly. A laugh that was too loud, too vibrant would make him pause. Even alone, his thoughts drifted to Stiles, to his full mouth and puppy-large hands, to how wicked his eyes went sometimes.

It wasn't natural. The last person he'd fixated on like that had been Kate, and in retrospect he could see how she'd manipulated him into it. She had been everywhere, bumping into him at odd moments with a bright smile and tricky hands, luring him into kisses in dark corners. And he'd been young, and dumb (so dumb) and willing to believe in fate and destiny and all that crap.

Stiles had advantages Kate didn't. He'd made the mountain ash work, he'd ended Jackson's curse. Derek had seen the printouts and web history of his research, and it wasn't all about werewolves. He smelled like sulfur and trickery, and Derek wasn't going to lose his family twice because he'd let his dick do the thinking for him.

"—you think I cast some sort of love spell on you?"

Laughter had not been one of the reactions Derek had been expecting.

Stiles was laughing so hard he'd fallen to the floor, gasping for breath between bursts of near hysterical giggles. He pressed his forehead to his knees, shoulders shaking. It was weird, inexplicable, and made Derek back up until the couch was between them.

"What's so funny?"

"You!" Stiles still had his face hidden. He'd moved on to rocking back and forth, voice breathy behind his hands. "I do a couple of parlor tricks and have a knack for the internet, and you think I cast some sort of love spell on you?"

Derek shuffled uncertainly. When he put it like that... "Jackson wasn't a parlor trick."

There was a gasp, a gulp of air that made Stiles throat work obscenely. He was still shaking, eyes bright and face red, but he was all smiles when he looked up at Derek, eyes the color of good whiskey and just as dangerous. "No, that was basic psychology." Stiles' shoulders rolled, then settled, as if he'd decided not to bother standing. "The kanima happens when something keeps a werewolf from turning, right? And Jackson didn't finish because he was too fucked in the head—didn't know who he was or where he belonged. So I gave him that and poof, no more kanima."

It was the truth. That wasn't right. Not exactly. Stiles' heart was fast, exertion and Adderall making their mark on him, but it didn't speed up more. And he didn't smell like deception. But that couldn't be right; it couldn't have been that easy. Stiles had practically thrown himself at Jackson; he'd been lucky not to be gutted. Derek had chewed him out about it afterwards. No one could have been that stupid for such little reason."You mean that... when you attacked him..."

"That wasn't an attack. It was a hug. They soothe the savage beast, you know." Broad shoulders rolled, pushing him up the wall and to his feet. "Now can we please get back to the part where you've been stalking me in your mind?"

When had Stiles gotten so big? There was still an inch between them, and he was still skinny, but there was a breadth to his shoulders that Derek didn't remember before, a promise of things to come. When he realized what he was doing, he flushed, fixing his eyes on Stiles' face rather than any of the... other options.

"...Or not in your mind." Stiles looked too gleeful at the prospect of being followed around by an alpha werewolf. "Really, dude? You know my dad's the sheriff, right?"

"Shut up, Stilinski." Derek hadn't been stalking, but he wasn't going to explain the difference between scoping out a potential threat and making calves' eyes.

Then Stiles did a... thing. Derek didn't know what to call it. He stepped around the couch, taking small, deliberate steps, hips rolling from side to side in a way that shouldn't have looked so good on someone without hips to speak of. That felt like being stalked, like being prey. Derek didn't realize he was backing away until his shoulders hit the wall, the edge of a photo digging its corner into his skin.

Stiles didn't stop coming until he had Derek trapped, lifting up on his toes to put his eyes above Derek's. The scent of sulfur was everywhere, all at once, twisted in with musky arousal and recklessness. "Would it be that bad a thing, for you to like me?" Stiles asked, voice a silky smooth purr that made Derek want to bare his throat and lash out at the same time. "It's that unbelievable, that you think magichad to cause it?"

Lying didn't come naturally to someone raised in a house of werewolves, but Derek still ground out, "Yes."

"Ouch. That hurts." Wiry arms wrapped round his neck, pressing them together from chest to hips. "Come on, admit it. You like me."

"No." He wouldn't admit it. Admitting it would be opening himself up. He'd done that too many times already.

Stiles smiled, like Derek had just presented him with some sort of cheesy declaration, rather than shut him down. Their noses brushed. "Come on, not even a little?"

Sulfur and want and Stiles were thick in the air, dizzying. "Not even."

The first kiss was nothing, a touch of lips that was gone almost before it started. "Okay," Stiles said, close enough that Derek could feel him speaking. "Then tell me to stop and I will."

He kissed him again, and Derek couldn't have told him to stop if he'd wanted to. For someone who'd been complaining loudly about virginity, Stiles knew what he was doing. It was nothing forceful, just a series of pressures, the sweep of skin on skin, a flick of tongue that was there and gone. Derek found himself leaning into it, a low whine caught in the back of his throat.

They ended up in Stiles' bed, fully clothed and curled around each other like the world would end if they let go. It was closer than Derek had let himself be to anyone since Laura. Stiles let Derek press his face into his throat, didn't comment on the way his fingers hooked into the back of his shirt and gripped tight. For a little while, Derek was able to forget.

Black eyes. Solid black, no pupil or iris or whites. Eyes so completely alien that there might never have been humanity in them at all.

Broken pieces of porch slashed at Derek's ribs, pressed into his back, but he barely registered it. Stiles stared back at Derek, expression cool and collected, nervous energy stilled for maybe the first time Derek had ever seen. He was sprawled in the middle of a pile of leaves, all gangly limbs and wiry strength. It wouldn't have been anything notable if not for those eyes.

"Yeah, that's right. So stay."

The scene with the hunters played out like a movie in another language; Derek could recognize roughly what was going on, but none of it made sense. He couldn't keep up, couldn't find his footing enough to say stop. It just kept going, and no matter how hard he tried he couldn't draw enough breath to make it stop.

And then Stiles was gone, vanishing in the space of a blink, and Derek was left hollow.

It was Kate all over again, and this time he didn't even have the excuse of being young.

As it turned out, there weren't any decent library books on demons. Scott talked to the Winchesters, and had gotten some information about possession—and exorcisms—but not enough to be useful. Stiles might be in there; he might not. If he was still in there, he might not be in any condition to take back over. Salt and holy water would probably work, but they couldn't make promises.

Exorcising it might be something Stiles could survive. If they were lucky.

Derek let the pack drift back sooner than he liked. Every day they avoided him, Stiles smelled a little less like pack, less like them, and that was unacceptable on every level. Their instincts knew Stiles was pack, even if their conscious minds were wary. The conflict made every wolf moody, which drove the humans up the wall until it was either take Stiles back or kill each other. Lydia covered an entire wall in a flow chart of possible demon origins using chalk, and Scott did nothing but sulk around looking like a kicked puppy. Boyd and Allison took to long runs in the evenings, and Erica nearly bit Isaac's head off in a sparring match.

In the end, Scott got to approach Stiles first, because Derek couldn't stand to hear him whine any more. When that went well, the others followed, one by one. They brought back information in trickles: Stiles had always been a demon. Ghosts were real. There were worse things than demons out there. None of it was what Derek needed to know.

Staying away forever had never been in the game plan. Derek wasn't sure what the plan had been, exactly, but that hadn't been it. He knew from the start that he wouldn't be able to avoid Stiles for long.

Then Allison pulled him aside and said, "He misses you."

Which was how Derek ended up sitting on Stiles' windowsill, staring at the wall rather than looking him in the eye. There was discussion, maybe some banter, but Derek wasn't paying attention to anything he was saying. Instead he listened for Stiles' heart, the little ticks of phrase and cadence, watched for casual habits that took a lifetime to learn and were hard to mimic. They were all there, every single one of them, from the click of his tongue as he licked his lips to the uncertain stutter of his breath when he was trying to hide something.

And under it all, the scent of sulfur. Always sulfur.

"You really are him," he finally admitted, feeling something heavy lift off his shoulders. "I thought for sure you'd been lying to Scott, but... You're Stiles."

"Maybe." The chair creaked as Stiles sat moved. His eyes were inhuman again; Derek turned his head just enough to not have to see them. "Maybe I did lie to Scott. Maybe the real Stiles is in here screaming his head off, while I lead you all into a trap."

Derek didn't need to hear Stiles' heartbeat skipping ahead of itself to know that was a pile of shit. "You wouldn't."

That seemed to startle Stiles. He sat up, flinging his arms wide, as if he'd encompass the whole world. "Hello, demon here! Fiend from Hell! How would you know?"

Because Stiles had worked too hard keeping them alive to give it up that easily. Because, demon or not, Stiles couldn't lie to save his life. Because Derek could smell how he felt, depression and anger and loneliness like Stiles had never smelled of before.

And most importantly, because Stiles wasn't Kate. It might have taken Derek too long to realize that, but he'd already established that he was an idiot. Being an idiot about one more thing was hardly worth noting.

It was, however, worth taking a gamble on. "I spoke with the Winchesters."

The silence twanged, anger spicing the air between them. Then Stiles exploded, stamping the floor as he flung himself forward in the chair. "You spoke with... You idiot!" he shouted, loud enough that Derek's ears hurt. "What the hell is it with werewolves and no self-preservation instinct? Do you want to be shot full of wolfsbane? Between you and Scott, I..." His voice trailed off into an uncertain silence.

Stiles was angry, afraid, he cared. Derek tried, but he couldn't keep the relieved smile completely off his face.

It must have given him away, because the next thing Stiles said was, "You lying bastard."

"That's how I know." Derek turned, looking at Stiles full-on for the first time since he'd forfeited their staring contest. The thud of Stiles' heart was heavy in his ears, terror lending it speed. The sound was like the ring of truth. "If you were going to betray me, you wouldn't have gotten angry."

It wasn't often that Stiles was struck completely speechless, so Derek savored the moment of fumbled silence before Stiles said, "I could have been faking."

That wasn't even worth rolling his eyes at. "No, you weren't." Derek stood up, making sure to take his time to stretch as he did so. It was Stiles' turn to get a good, long look. "I've got one question, though."

Even though Derek practically had him cornered, Stiles still tried to fake being in control. He leaned back in his chair, lacing his fingers as an impromptu headrest. "Shoot," Stiles aid, with just a hint of a tremble in his voice.

It was good. Honest. Derek didn't think he would have been able to stand being the only one to not know what he was doing. He didn't bother trying to hide his own uncertainty when he asked, "Can demons love?"

Stiles let out a loud sigh, sagging forward. "You don't lowball, do you?"

Derek swung a leg over Stiles, settling down on his thighs. They were warm, firm against him, just the right height to balance. The chair creaked alarmingly and settled lower, but didn't break. Feeling Stiles strong and sure under him sent a sharp twist through his chest, a want that was only a little about sex. With Stiles, there was always a balancing act, an awareness that Stiles' life was in his hands, that it was too dangerous to risk handing over control. It was hard to tell what a human could take; they were strong and fragile in the strangest ways.

But if Stiles weren't, strictly speaking, human...

"Answer the question, Stilinski," Derek said, voice rough in his own ears.

"I don't know." Stiles licked his lips, pink tongue flashing out teasingly. "There's not exactly an owner's manual in here. Demons..." A wide smile lit his face, open and honest and purely Stiles. "Demons are pretty damned possessive, though."

The pun was too terrible not to laugh at, but Derek added in a kiss for good measure. He should have known that Stiles sense of humor wasn't natural. "I think I can live with that."

Derek expected things to go back to normal.

He should have known that "normal" was, at best, elusive, and at worst an illusion.

Stiles pulling up to the old house in a jeep loaded down with rock salt, shovels and PVC pipe was enough to remind him. Derek sat back by the door and watched as Stiles chivvied the rest of the pack into digging a trench all the way around the house, two feet deep and six inches across. Stiles did the entryway himself, putting together a complicated arrangement of pipes and holes in the wall, even going so far as to take the door off its hinges.

"You couldn't have made this easy on me and had a cheap hollow door?" he asked Derek without actually looking up for an answer. He had some sort of drill, and was deliberately working a hole lengthwise through the door panels. "If you ever get around to fixing this place up, I'm not doing this again."

"What is this, Stilinski?" Jackson demanded, peering down into the hole he'd just dug as if there were answers hidden in the dirt. "You don't just get to show up and start all this without explaining."

"Yes I do." Stiles grin wouldn't have looked out of place on a wolf. "Don't I, Derek?"

Privately, Derek agreed with Jackson, but he'd found that agreeing with Jackson too much just caused problems. And in any case, he didn't see the harm in whatever Stiles was doing. So he just grunted. "Keep digging."

Jackson grumbled, and Stiles fist-pumped in triumph, and that was that.

Derek let Stiles have his victory for a few minutes before crouching down next to him, ostensibly to hold the door steady as he drilled. "What is this about, Stiles?" he asked quietly, well aware that every set of wolf ears for fifty yards would be able to hear him easily. "You're not usually this..." Random wasn't the right word. Everything Stiles had done so far had been deliberate and carefully planned. "Secretive."

"It's not a secret." Stiles shrugged, head down, attention mostly on his work. His hands were surprisingly steady for someone who, as far as Derek knew, wasn't familiar with tools. "I thought that the old place could use some protection."

The loads of rock salt. Derek tried to remember what his family had told him about salt. His parents had never been much into mysticism, but some stories got passed down regardless. "You're circling the house."

"A salt ring keeps out all sorts of things," Stiles agreed easily, shoulders jerking as he finished boring through the wood. Pursing his lips, Stiles blew the sawdust away, then rubbed a finger across the hole, dipping it in to clear more dust.

Derek didn't think he liked where this was going. "Things like demons."

The longer Stiles went without looking up, the harder it was for Derek not to grab his face and make him look. It was one thing for the betas to avoid meeting his eyes. That was respect. It wasn't supposed to be like that between them.

"And ghosts. Hellhounds. A few other ghoulies." A roll of Stiles' shoulders, another sweep of his fingers over wood that didn't need the attention. Stiles was nervous, Derek could smell it. "An ounce of prevention can't hurt, right?"


"I'd better go help Lydia fill the pipes." Stiles made to stand, but Derek grabbed his hand, pinning it down against the door. Big brown eyes looked up at Derek in alarm, softer than they had any right to be when Derek knew what was in there.

Or maybe it was what was in there that made them soft.

"This isn't going to lock you out, is it?" Derek asked quietly. "If it is, I'll dig up every one of these damned pipes as fast as you can lay them."

For a second, he thought Stiles was going to lie. His heartbeat jumped and his breath paused, and Derek prepared to rip up the pipe on sheer principle. But then he laughed, bumping the door with his knee. "If we get this right, all anyone will have to do is let me in."

"Lock you in, you mean."

Stiles' hand under his twisted, until he was holding Derek's rather than being restrained by it. "I guess it's better to be locked in with friends than have nowhere to go at all, isn't it?"

It kept up like that, a confusing sort of business that lasted past the first blush of newness and almost settled into a routine. Derek would stop by Stiles' bedroom only to find Lydia already there, head bent over some archaic Latin that Stiles made her practice until he flinched. Boyd and Isaac worked with paint and tape in odd places around all of their houses, laying down symbols from printouts Stiles had given them, making places Stiles would have to skirt and avoid. Erica even learned how to make holy water, filling bottles of it and keeping them stored in a closet that Lydia blessed so Stiles couldn't even open the door.

Bit by bit, Derek's pack armed against one of their own, and all he could do was watch in bewilderment as Stiles orchestrated the whole horrible symphony.

The charms were the last straw. Anti-possession necklaces, Stiles said. Not as good as tattoos, but they would do. Scott dumped them out on the trestle that stood in for a table, letting everyone pick one from the pile. They glittered in the sunlight that streamed through the open door and windows, brass playing at being gold. Derek stared at his while the rest of the pack chattered around them, oblivious to the cloud looming over his head.

When they'd all left, Stiles stayed back by the door, hands shoved into his coat pockets and expression wary. "You don't like it."

Derek held the necklace up, letting it dangle from his fingers. It was oddly pretty, the pentacle reflecting the fading sunlight, the little symbols engraved onto it hypnotic. "What do you think you're doing?"


"From what?"

Stiles' face did the odd, closed-in thing, like he was trying to think of a lie that would pass muster. Just the effort made his heartbeat jump, and that made Derek's blood boil. "It's no—"

"If you say nothing I'm going to—"

"You don't understand—"

"And I won't if you don't tell me!" Derek roared, slamming his hand down on the table. They stared at each other, Derek's teeth bared and Stiles' heart so loud it should have echoed. "We're in this together, aren't we?"

It was Stiles who looked away first, fixing his eyes on a spot somewhere to Derek's left. "It's not anything specific," he said carefully. "It's just a feeling."

"A feeling?" Derek pressed. "What sort of feeling?"

"Like—" Stiles ran his fingers through his hair; he'd just buzzed it again, and there wasn't enough to poke through his fingers. He kicked the floor and looked up, eyes tracking across the ceiling. "Look, Hell is—it's Hell, it's an anthill that someone just kicked, and Heaven's not doing much better. There're worse things out there than demons. I'm a freaking gold fish compared to some of the sharks in this pond. You want trouble? Try tangling with an angel."

Angels. Derek was definitely not ready to contemplate the existence of angels. He could just manage to cope with demons. More than that was going to take time. "But you're sure there's nothing..?"

Stiles shrugged. "If I knew something certain, I'd tell you."

The pendant had dug into Derek's palm, leaving a crescent edged in bright red. He stared at it, watching as the mark faded into his skin. His eyes slid closed before it was gone entirely. Sulfur sat thick in the air, not just Stiles, but more. Different. It prickled his skin like the static that preceded a bad storm. "Would you?"

Floorboards creaked, and then Stiles was prying his fingers open and picking up the pendant by its chain. He slipped it around Derek's neck, closing the clasp with a finality that felt like a manacle. Warm, strong fingers cupped the back of Derek's neck and pulled him in close, his other hand settling on Derek's hip.

They stayed like that, foreheads touching, sharing breath. Stiles scent was everywhere, close enough that Derek could wrap himself in it, dig in and never come back out. He hooked his fingers into Stiles' belt instead, claws digging holes into the thick leather.

"Put it inside your shirt," Stiles murmured. "It needs to be against skin."

Derek did as he was told. The brass was warm, easy to ignore where it settled over his breastbone, but still heavy. There were boulders lighter to carry. "You're pulling away," he mumbled into the space between them. "I don't like it."

"I kind of figured that out." Stiles squeezed the back of Derek's neck. "I'm not trying to pull away. Just—let me do this. Let me protect our pack."

Our pack.

Derek opened his eyes. They were close enough that he could make out the different shades of amber in Stiles' irises, could see the flecks of what was almost beta-gold in them. Tilting his head, he brushed a kiss across Stiles' lips. "Remember that you're part of the pack you're protecting."

Against his mouth, Stiles grinned. "Sure thing," he laughed. "Let's ring my house and salt and put an anti-possession charm on me. There's no way that could end badly."

The problem with Stiles' laugher was that it was infectious. Derek caught himself smiling back, and had to hide it with another kiss. "Shut up, Stilinski."

After that, Stiles preparations didn't slow, but they did become less grating for Derek's nerves. There were still salt lines and endless renditions of the Seal of Solomon and Enochian writing lessons for Erica, Boyd and Allison—not Lydia, Stiles had point-blank refused to even teach someone else with Lydia in the room, which had caused a week-long fight and started a grudge Derek was pretty sure Lydia would hold until they were all old and grey. But there wasn't a feeling like Stiles was arming them against himself.

And if sometimes the sulfur reek was stronger than usual, if Stiles stared into middle distance and his eyes went dark, a bump on the shoulder was usually all it would take to pull him out of it.

"Nothing yet," he'd say.

It wasn't much, but it was something Derek could live with.

Stiles wasn't answering his cell phone.

Derek glared down at the phone, lip curled. Technology wasn't something that could be threatened into good behavior, but humans tried it too, so he didn't feel too ridiculous. Stiles would have laughed at him for it, but Stiles couldn't because he hadn't shown up and he wasn't answering the phone.

They'd picked the diner to meet at because it was two miles past the county line, one of the few places in driving distance where they were almost guaranteed not to run into someone who worked for Stiles' father. It was a good place, full of good smells and quiet conversation. Derek really didn't want it to become the place he lost something important, another place where one bad memory was heavier than a hundred good.

"Having a bad day, hon?" One of the waitresses paused by his table, an older lady whose nametag said Anna Marie. She smelled like someone's mother, of crayons and hairspray and stress; certainly the look she gave him was motherly. "Where's that cutie you're usually with?"

Another call that went through to voice mail. Derek snapped his phone closed and stood. "That's what I'm going to find out."

Pack members always left their bedroom windows unlocked, and had ever since the pack had settled down. Wolves were tactile creatures; it wasn't unusual for the pack to split itself up between houses on bad nights. Derek made sure to be up and gone before the question of a grown man crawling through windows could be raised, but Sheriff Stilinski and Ms. McCall had woken up to unexpected piles of teenagers in their children's' rooms enough times that they'd given up grounding them for it. No one else's parents cared much, with the exception of the time Lydia managed to go an entire month without sleeping in her own bed. That had ended with her parents putting their foot down, and the pack spending a miserable two weeks before things settled again.

Stiles was no exception to the open window rule, which was why Derek's hackles immediately raised when he went to slip through and found it latched. Night had fallen hours ago; by Derek's reckoning, it was the last time to have the window locked.

Holding his breath, Derek listened. Stiles heartbeat was somewhere inside, but it wasn't in his room, so Derek dropped back to the ground before a neighbor could get nosy. After checking to be sure the Sheriff's car wasn't out front, Derek risked sniffing the spare key out from its hiding place—a loose brick in the garden border on the west side of the house—and let himself in.

As soon as he opened the door, the stench of sulfur wafted out so strong it made him sneeze. "Stiles?"

Something thudded up on the second floor, three times in a sharp staccato.

Derek took the stairs two at a time.

Upstairs, Stiles was sprawled out on his back in the hallway, whole body heaving up like he'd been hit with an electric shock. Derek leaped for him, and then nearly collapsed at the stink of sulfur. If it had been bad downstairs, upstairs was nearly poisonous. His nose ached and his eyes watered; every breath hurt. Stumbling forward, Derek fell down by Stiles' side. "Stiles!"

Panic, confusion and anger all crowded against each other in Derek's chest, jostling for position. A hundred thoughts whirled through his head, but what rose to the front was, Damn it, I told you to be careful!

The floor vibrated as Stiles pounded it again, the heel of his palm cracking into the varnished wood as he jerked and twisted. His eyes rolled between honey brown and demon black, the colors washing back and forth, never quite settling at either. Blood leaked from the corner of Stiles' mouth where he'd bitten through his lip.

"Derek—" Stiles lifted up, shoving at his chest. "Demon. Run." In the next breath, his fingers curled into Derek's shirt, eyes slithering to black again. "No—no, stay, help me fight her—" The hand spasmed open and Stiles sprang backward, head cracking against the floor.

Between two of Stiles' stuttering heartbeats, Derek made his decision. Reaching up, he grabbed the anti-possession charm where it was hiding under his shirt. A quick yank and it was flying, skittering across the floor to vanish over the edge of the top step.

Then he sealed their lips together.

It was a little like taking a puff of a cigarette, the few times he'd given it a try. His lungs inflated and his head spun, something slipping inside him, making room for itself where there hadn't been any before. It stretched and spread out, lazy warmth slipping through Derek's veins. There was a sense of discomfort, distant burning,muscles being used for the first time in too long. He had just enough time to panic that maybe he'd let the wrong one in before a voice somewhere behind his heart said, We have got to work on your self-preservation skills.

The voice was wrong—deeper, softer than usual, with a resonance that he could feel crawling under his skin, but still so utterly and completely Stiles that Derek sagged in relief. He felt himself be drawn back, tucked away behind something muffling and thick, with more than a hint of a precious treasure being stored somewhere safe.

Color shifted as the world went dark, edged in shadows that were filled with textures beyond anything Derek could name. The shadows were alive, but not, layered with information he barely glimpsed before he was wrapped even farther. He wondered if it was how Stiles always saw things.

Only when I have to.

Below them, the demon in Stiles' body blinked and tilted its—her head, black eyes cold the way Stiles' never were, not even when he was trying. Hollow eyes. "Isn't this a surprise?" she purred in Stiles' voice, taking a handful of Derek's shirt again. "I can work with this."

Thoughts ran together, information coming from nowhere in particular, stray thoughts Stiles didn't know he was leaking. Her name was Genna, and she wasn't as old as Stiles was. Younger, but higher level. Stronger. A natural. Ruthless, brutal, cunning. She had backing Stiles had never had, and wouldn't hesitate to kill both bodies if she thought it would get her what she wanted. They had to be careful, Stiles had to be careful. He'd been human too long, he'd forgotten how to play these games.

"Have fun working it on your own." Derek's body moved without his permission, peeling her fingers off and pushing away. He watched through his own eyes as he dusted himself off, coolly casual, almost indifferent. "We're not into threesomes these days."

"I never took you for a traditionalist." She propped herself up on her elbows, looking up at them with an expression of want that curled their stomach. Or maybe it was Stiles' stomach, by the way anger twanged between them.

"Monogamy has its benefits." They shoved their hands in their pockets, one hip cocked,a very Stiles pose. Even at a distance from himself, it felt like an odd stance to take. "What do you want?"

Genna didn't move, other than to stretch out obscenely, ending with her knees up and open invitingly. "It's not what I want," she said. "It's what Crowley wants."

Physically there was no reaction, but Derek tasted Stiles' surprise on the back of his tongue. "I don't have any business with the king of the crossroads."

"You are out of the loop. Not just crossroads anymore, sweetheart." The slow, hungry smile she gave them looked completely out of place on Stiles' face. "Hell's got an open throne. Crowley's looking to do a little ladder climbing. And here you are with a sweet little kingdom all your own. That could be viewed as a challenge by some factions."

In their pockets, Derek's claws start to dig into their leg. Instinctively, he reached through to touch Stiles, showing him how to calm down, to turn the anger back in on itself. The claws vanished, and a feeling of gratitude slid between them.

Get ready to move.

"I don't play politics," was what Stiles said aloud, with a casual shrug. "Never did, never will."

"If you don't play them, they'll play you."

"Heh," Stiles laughed, a short bark of a sound that nearly became an actual bark with Derek's voice. "Better than playing messenger for some crossroad's demon with delusions of grandeur."

Derek felt the moment that the banter turned, tasted the acid hint of danger just seconds before Genna sprang to her feet. The muffling vanished, leaving Derek hot and alive in his own skin, just in time to leap backwards as Genna crashed into the place he'd been standing. He snarled, claws digging into the wood floor, teeth bared.

Run, damn it, run! Stiles shouted, voice reverberating in Derek's skull, while instinct screamed to attack, to take on the thing that had stolen his mate's body and make her give it back.

"Going to come play?" Genna asked, smile wide and wicked. "Here, puppy, puppy, puppy..."

Derek snarled, but did the only thing he could do: he ran.

Maybe you should have sent more than, 'SOS come to house'.

And maybe they were also intercepted and there's a demon reading Scott's texts.

Scott wasn't the one dumb enough to take off his necklace.

They perched in the one of the trees outside the old Hale house, waiting for the others to arrive. Derek's breath fogged the winter air, but he barely noticed; werewolves were good at retaining body heat. Since he was the one most used to werewolf reflexes, Derek took care of handling the body while Stiles rattled around inside, poking memories.

He was like a kid with a new toy, dragging out old stories, bits of werewolf lore that he hadn't passed on—mate for life, dude, really? And you didn't think this was worth mentioning?—and a thousand inconsequential things Derek hadn't realized he remembered, thoughts he'd had and not quite forgotten. Surprised pleasure radiated out of Stiles with every one he came across—you're like Shakespeare in here, my skin's not that soft—like he hadn't expected Derek to notice him that much.

Every now and then, Stiles would find a tender spot—Kate Argent, the memory of moonlight in Laura's hair, his mother's scent—and Derek would flinch internally. Each time Stiles would hesitate, and Derek could feel the dissonance in him, the battle between whatever he felt for Derek and the urge to rip it all open for fun and damn whatever shreds it would leave Derek in. But he always backed away, moving on to safer pastures, like making Derek's claws pop, or tracking a mouse across the clearing.

It was disconcerting, knowing exactly what Stiles was capable of, what he wanted on some level, and simultaneously being grateful that he didn't.

Inside him, Stiles gave a sensation like a shrug. I like you the way you are.

And I liked you the way you were. Outside me.

Amused condescension tasted like licorice and lemons, felt like muck sliding along his skin. You liked me inside you last week. Derek's cheeks heated, but Stiles' thoughts went on without a pause. We're just lucky she was trying to force me out instead of taking over. It's nice to be unstuck.

Good luck getting 'inside me' again if you're stuck this time, Derek snapped, knowing that he was being unreasonable and not able to help it. I'm not interested in any body but yours.

Stiles only laughed, and it was exactly what he would have imagined feeling Stiles' laughter would be like, sunlight and bubbles, a bright new feeling that left Derek smiling in spite of his annoyance.

And of course, there was no hiding even that from Stiles. There was another laugh, but lower, less sunshine and more cotton sheets. You're such a sap.

Shut up.

Stiles snorted, but turned back to Derek's memories. There wasn't silence in their head, but a sort of peace that Derek wouldn't have expected from sharing such close space with someone. Their thoughts were a background buzz, easily ignored and, in an inexplicable way, comforting. He relaxed into it, drifting, and wasn't even aware of letting go control of the body until he tried to scent the air and couldn't.


What? You weren't using it! Stiles lifted their nose into the breeze, taking a deep breath. Is that Scott? Is that what he smells like?

As things turned out, it was Scott, accompanied by Allison, Lydia and Jackson. They'd just touched the edge of the property and were making their way along a deer path. Somewhere out in the trees, beyond the property lines, Erica and Isaac's scents carried, distant enough that they were barely hints. No sign of Boyd, but Derek wasn't going to swear he wasn't upwind; Boyd liked that trick.

Stiles was delighted with every new scent, making Derek identify everything he could while they waited for the pack to arrive. Derek felt a little like a trick pony, but he gave in anyway. Better than having Stiles sorting his memories like a record collection. By the time Scott, Jackson and the humans tromped into the clearing, they'd gone through Lydia's perfume—vanilla, expensive, probably imported—and the whisper of silk that he would have assumed was Allison's bow string if it weren't so heavy.

The silk ended up being a hand-sewn silk bag that was bundled in Lydia's arms and clinked gently with every step. Jackson reeked of hair gel and aborted lust, while Scott just smelled like his usual buoyant self.

"Stiles? Derek?" Scott called, with all the subtlety and discretion of a drunken hippo. In the dark his eyes were gold, but he never looked higher than eyelevel. "Are you guys here?"

"No, Scott, we're not, we're at the movies. How do you expect us to answer?" Derek wasn't sure which of them said it, but it was Stiles who hopped down from the branch. His knees didn't bend quite enough on landing, jarring their hips and making them wobble.

Derek snorted, and felt Stiles stick out his tongue in response. Scott froze in his tracks, and Jackson actually cursed in surprise. Even Allison looked wide eyed. Derek had to forcibly stop Stiles from doing something even weirder with his face to see what they'd do next.

This isn't the time.

But when will I get this chance again? Stiles whined, but subsided.

Of the four of them, Lydia was the only one unaffected. She rolled her eyes dramatically and assumed a put-on expression. "Stiles, stop that. Derek's face will freeze that way and then he won't be nearly as pretty."

"How do you know that's Stiles?" Allison asked. Derek tried not to notice how her finger tightened on her crossbow trigger.

"It's obvious," Lydia said breezily, dropping her bag to the ground.

In the back of Derek's head, he felt Stiles shuffle a thought away, drawing a curtain over it. Then he pressed forward, and Derek let himself be drawn back into the same safe hidey hole Stiles had put him in before, less muffled but still out of control. "She's right," Stiles said for them. "We've got a timeshare thing going on right now. Gotta say, Derek's ride is way better than mine."

Derek couldn't pass on his glare nearly as hard as he wanted, but he tried anyway, and felt Stiles' shiver of laughter in response.

Behind them—upwind—someone stepped out of the brush. They turned with a nonchalance that Derek didn't at all feel, but it was only Boyd. His eyes had gone gold, and his nostrils flared. "Stiles is at the edge of the property," he said. "Isaac and Erica are watching him. He's..." Agitation tightened every line of Boyd's body, the language as clear as a shout. "He's not moving right."

A stranger in their territory. A stranger with a familiar face, but different at heart. Derek's bones ached, grinding with the need to shift; he wanted to run and fight and protect. Scott and Jackson fidgeted too, baring their teeth.

Stiles must have been paying attention when Derek showed him how to hold on to control, because he pushed Derek's instincts down like they were nothing. "That's Genna," he explained over the low growl coming from Jackson. "If she paid any attention at all before attacking me, she'll know this is the den, which means she'll come here."

"What do we do?"

Using Derek's mouth, Stiles grinned. "Exactly what I set this place up to do."

Genna might have been stronger and better connected than Stiles, but she was younger too. "Only two or three hundred," Stiles had said, in a tone that dripped with kids today exasperation. They didn't even have to try hard; all it took was luring her into the house, having Scott close the door and then keeping her talking until she stumbled into one of Erica's devil's traps.

If she was one of Hell's best, Derek could see why Stiles had washed his hands of it. Pathetic wasn't a word he would have expected to use in reference to actual demons but the temptation was there.

After Genna had been successfully trapped, Stiles stuck Derek's tongue out and they left to the sound of screaming threats while Lydia, Boyd and Isaac started setting up. Derek hadn't even argued the point when it was brought up. The last thing he wanted to do was put Stiles through an exorcism. They made sure the betas had the perimeter, and then loped off. None of them, not even Stiles, were sure how close a possessed person would have to be to be affected by the exorcism rites, but werewolf hearing was too good to take chances with. Someone would call them with the all-clear.

You're taking this awfully easy, Stiles commented as they wandered through the trees, about three miles from the house. Derek kept control of their speed and balance, but Stiles was handling most of the walking. He seemed to like the physicality of it. I was expecting more of a fight about this.

About what? They hopped one of the many geographically unlikely gorges that littered the preserve, control passing smoothly between them for the maneuver.

This. Stiles raised Derek's hand and wiggled the fingers at himself. Most people get kind of touchy about sharing bodyspace.

There was something there Stiles wasn't saying, something tinted with a feeling of glee, memories of chaos and—the part that was most interesting—guilt. Derek pondered his words before saying them, knowing that Stiles could feel it. But they'd come a long way since that first horrible year. I trust you.

They'd stopped moving in the shadow of a giant tree, all its leaves gone with the winter. Do you? The hand Stiles had been playing with dropped down to Derek's belt buckle. He toyed with it, fingers running across the tongue, sliding down to scrape a nail across Derek's zipper. You'd trust a demon?

Not a demon. You.

Metal clinked as the belt was undone, followed by the button of Derek's jeans. The tearing sound of his zipper was like agony, too loud for the quiet woods, but still not as loud as their breath. He was already getting hard, dick pressed against the inside of his briefs. Stiles barely grazed it with a finger, everything poised, waiting.

Almost delicately, his fingertips shifted, claw tips catching on cotton. Still trust me?

Derek tried to lick his lips and couldn't. The fingertips were his own, the claws were his own. He could feel everything, and at the same time it was completely foreign. For all the sensation, he didn't have any control at all, Stiles having uprooted it. No muffling, no shelf for Stiles to tuck him into whether he wanted it or not. All Derek could do was feel whatever Stiles gave him.

He remembered another time, when he'd fantasized about losing control, when he'd thought about teeth and claws, about being too rough and it being okay. It had been years since he'd gone back to that fantasy. He'd thought Kate had ruined it when she'd ruined him. But maybe it didn't have to stay ruined.

With deliberate effort, Derek let go. It felt like relaxing in a warm pool, floating, letting himself be taken wherever Stiles wanted. He felt Stiles against him, taking up the body, filling its nooks and forcing Derek down into the recesses of his own mind. The only thing Derek could do was crowd up against him, to feel Stiles like a full-body shiver, to taste grass and sulfur and champagne in the back of his throat.

Yeah. I trust you.

Vision flashed, scenes disconnected as the shock ran through Stiles. Rough bark scratched Derek's back through his shirt as Stiles they slammed into a tree, both hands shoving jeans and underwear down. Needle-point claws scratched tender skin as he wrapped a hand around his dick, just light enough to be the good side of pain. Familiar calluses ran down the shaft in familiar-but-different ways, working him into full hardness with a practiced hand.

Stiles handled their dick like Stiles, a little clumsy, too eager, but so good that Derek's toes curled in his boots. It was a little too dry, but the second Derek thought it Stiles had already swiped his tongue across his palm.

Breath came hard as Stiles pumped him. Every little motion echoed, reverberated between them like a plucked string. A twist of the wrist was a treble note, steady strokes a low bass thrum so deep it was almost physical. The hand jerking him off was secondary to the push-pull of Stiles.

Orgasm burned tight and low in Derek's stomach, wearing away at Stiles' inexperience. Teeth pressed against the inside of Derek's lips as Stiles' control slipped a little, and then a little more. The twisting, rising tide of please between them dipped, softened as Stiles tried to force the changes back. Derek pressed against it, pushing Stiles limits, dragging his attention back. Let it happen, let it, let it

They cracked.

Fur erupted across their skin, teeth and bones breaking. Howls tore their throat as they came, head slamming against the tree when they tipped it back to give full cry. The pull between them turned into a tightening noose as they crashed together, spark flaring until total darkness dragged them down.

They drifted in the afterglow, wrapped tight around each other. Thoughts bloomed somewhere between them, with neither and both of them being the source. Fur rippled away, form resetting back into something like human. Derek felt Stiles decide to open their eyes before he actually did, followed almost immediately by the choice to close them again.

Peeling away to take back control was a nightmare. Derek felt cold down to his stomach, empty like he hadn't since he'd lost Laura. Then Stiles moved against him, thoughts warm and content, and it wasn't so bad. He moved to assess the damage.

There wouldn't be any hiding what they'd done, but it wasn't as bad as it could have been. Amazingly, his jeans had survived the change, only a little worse for wear. Bark, leaves and dirt were all them, along with a few fragrant drops of come that he rubbed at futilely. Come had also splattered against Derek's stomach and chest. He stripped off the shreds of his shirt and mopped it up, then made to toss the shirt away.

Dude, littering, Stiles muttered sleepily.

Derek huffed, but stuffed the shirt in his back pocket instead. Fine, you get to explain then.

Stiles smiled. It didn't feel like a nice smile.

Three miles away, the pack howled, echoing back Derek's cry. In his pocket, his text message alert went off.

D gone doin cpr hrry.

Scott's text had been, in a classically Scott sort of way, both straightforward and uninformative. Derek hadn't bothered to text back; if they were doing CPR then he didn't want anyone distracted.

"What happened?" Derek demanded of the first person he saw, which happened to be Jackson and Boyd, who'd been stationed at the open door like a guard. Fear and worry wafted out from the house, heavy under the smell of sulfur. Both scents two combined were strong enough to drown even the sex-stench that Derek hadn't been able to scrub away. "Tell me."

Jackson's eyes slipped to blue, nerves getting the better of him. "His breathing keeps stopping. They're doing mouth to mouth, but..."

Boyd was calmer, as always, but he was still tense. "He's not dead yet."

I hope they're doing a good job of it, Stiles commented, voice still lazy and comfortable with sex. Bodies are harder to put on when you have to jump start them.

Derek shook his head and pushed past Jackson into the house, eyes darting to take in the scene. The pack was gathered around, mostly hovering uselessly. Lydia had been propped in a corner with a blanket around her shoulders, apparently asleep. Most importantly, Allison was bent over Stiles in the middle of one of the traps, ear bent to his chest, wearing an expression of intense concentration. She shook her head and lifted up to start chest compressions. Watching her hands on Stiles, her mouth as she paused to inflate his lungs, made Derek's claws itch.

Possessive much? Stiles grumbled, but there was an edge of gratification to his thoughts.

Yes. "Get it out of the trap," Derek said aloud, since Stiles was too lazy to say it himself. "Then get away."

Erica and Isaac did the honors, carrying Stiles out of the trap rather than dragging him. They set him down safely outside any traps, then scurried away like it might explode. Derek felt heavy, old as he knelt down by Stiles' body, floorboards creaking under him. Stiles had stopped breathing again, the steady thump of his heart gone silent, skin already smelling like meat. It was one of those moments that he knew instinctively would spend the rest of his life being recalled as nightmares.

The kiss was simple, just pressing their lips together and breathing. Stiles flowed between like water into a cup, chest rising in a deep breath as he took back over. On the exhale, Stiles' heart started again. It left Derek a little empty, the space inside his head too quiet. Hollows he hadn't even noticed before suddenly loomed, impossible to fill on his own.

But then Stiles opened his eyes and groaned, clutching his chest. "My ribs, what did you do, take a sledge hammer to them?"

Allison laughed wetly, a sob hidden behind it. "Chest compressions," she explained in a thick voice. "They're probably broken."

"Well, thanks for keeping me alive. I think. Ouch." One of Stiles' arms looped around Derek, using him to pull upright. Derek helped by curling his arms around Stiles, tucking him into his shoulder.

Just like that, the pack was on them, crowding in to touch Stiles, rub up against him and get rid of the scent of other. Boyd and Jackson even came in from guard duty to join in the pile. Derek stayed in the center, face pressed into Stiles' neck to listen to his heartbeat.