Tilly settles after his mom dies, as a littler Stiles stands clutching his dad’s pant leg with one small, white-knuckled hand. One moment she’s a tiny warm body cupped in the palm of his free hand and the next she’s a weight on his shoulder; an angular construct of stark feathers and black slate claws.
It’s hard to get comfort from a bird.
* * *
Kids are cruel. They don’t understand what it is to hurt – not unless it happens to them. They see another kid who cries in class and they see a freak, a target. They see another kid who cries in class and has a weird bird daemon and it’s a free-for-all.
Stiles does his best not to cry, but it’s hard and sometimes he can’t help it. Tilly tries to help him, she really does, but when she tucks close her claws prick and her beak jabs and he worries about bending her flight feathers. He watches the other kids and feels jealousy burn thick and angry in his gut, watching their daemons flick between forms easy as breathing. One boy trips over thin air and goes down hard. He starts to cry but then his daemon’s there, newly a dog with crazy amounts of soft fur – perfect for hugging.
Tilly can’t do that.
* * *
For all Stiles wants to hate the boy whose daemon turned into a dog to make him feel better, the very next week when Stiles is cornered in the playground that same boy comes to help him. His daemon turns into this giant of a dog with savage teeth and it chases the kids away while Stiles watches, wide-eyed. Tilly chacks in his ear and tugs at his shirt collar, loving him the only way she can.
“Why’d you do that?” he mumbles, knuckling at his eyes to get rid of the wet. The boy turns to him and he’s such a puppy – all big dark eyes and curling mop of hair. He’s so earnest it hurts to watch.
“Because they were being mean.”
They stare at each other. Then the boy gestures shyly at Tilly. “I, uh. I like your daemon. She’s settled, isn’t she?”
“This is Audax,” says the boy, obviously referring to his daemon. He grins, sudden and blinding. “She’s not settled yet but I hope that when she does she’s as cool as your daemon is.”
Stiles blinks and flushes. No one’s ever said anything before – anything nice, at least. His dad walks with hollow eyes. They haven’t properly talked since before mom— Yeah. Since before.
“I’m Stiles,” he blurts. “Uh. Thank you for sticking up for me and Tilly.”
“No biggie,” says the boy. “Stiles and Tilly, huh? I’m Scott!”
And that’s how he meets his best friend.
* * *
Audax settles when they’re thirteen, after Scott’s dad leaves. It’s not really a surprise when Stiles sees Scott back at school with a lumbering giant of a dog. They’d both always kind of expected her to be a dog, but the triumph of being right is tempered by the dimming of the warmth in Mrs McCall’s eyes, the extra bite in her tone.
Lydia Martin’s daemon settles as an orang-utan a few months later, and everyone except Stiles and their math teacher is surprised.
* * *
He’s not with Scott the first time it happens. It’s been a couple of days since the first full moon after Scott was bitten, which was a clusterfuck that he’s decidedly not thinking about, thank you very much, and he’s sat at his desk mindlessly going through Wikipedia pages. Click. Snapdragons. Click. Some Russian guy.
His dad pokes his head around the bedroom door. “Hey, Stiles. Did you have a thing with Scott today?”
“Well, he’s asking for you.”
“He is? Oh, uh. Okay. I’ll be right down.”
He flips down the lid of his laptop and then ducks around his dad, taking the stairs two at a time. Scott is propping open the front door, shoulders hunched. Dax is pressed against his leg, shivering and whining piteously.
Tilly caws and paddles over to her, awkward on her feet in the way only birds can be. The two touch – Dax bumping her muzzle into Tilly’s body while Tilly lifts her beak up to neaten Dax’s whiskers.
“Stiles. I, uh. Can I talk to you for a second?”
“Yeah,” says Stiles, raising an eyebrow. “Sure thing, buddy.” Then, conscious of his dad hovering in the kitchen doorway, “Hey, uh, why don’t we go up to my room? I’ve got munchies.”
“Yeah, yeah. Just. Let’s go.”
Stiles turns and head up, and the moment they’re in his room Scott shuts the door and slides down to sit with his back against it. Dax whines and crawls onto his lap, licking beneath his chin. They’ve always been close but this – this is—
Scott shakes his head, scrubs one hand over his eyes. “I, uh. It was Dax. She – she disappeared, Stiles.”
“She disappeared. Like, she was gone. Properly gone.”
Stiles sits down in his computer chair, flops back. He’s not sure to do with that. “I. Uh. Is it a werewolf thing?”
“I don’t know! Can’t you find out?”
“Google actually isn’t super helpful, you know,” says Stiles. “You’d be amazed by the amount of Twilight fanfic I have to ignore to actually get anywhere with – with any of this lore stuff. I can’t just Google what happens to daemons when their humans become werewolves.”
“Well, what else do you suggest? I just – I just want to know, okay? It’s Dax, Stiles. It’s Dax.”
“I know,” says Stiles, watching them curl closer together and feeling a sharp twist in his chest. A sudden thought occurs to him. “Why don’t you ask Derek?”
“Yeah, because that won’t go wrong at all.”
“He has a daemon. I’ve seen her,” says Stiles. “I’m serious. Didn’t he want you to talk to him more? He’s not gonna turn you away.”
“Why don’t you ask him?”
“Because – because I’m not the one he’s been creeping on! Dude, if I go to ask him about your daemon—”
“Okay. Fine. I’ll do it.”
He doesn’t. That’s just the start of their problems.
* * *
He’s on the floor and his room is the greyscale crackle of night and Tilly is on his chest, wings mantled and a chack caught high in her throat. There’s a shape in the window and its eyes are fever-bright it has no daemon no daemon, the space beside it as gaping as a wound.
“You’re Stiles, right,” says Derek Hale. “I’ve been meaning to talk to you.”
* * *
Derek is an interlocking set of charcoal planes, his eyelashes sooty on a cheek painted white by moonlight. He comes in through the window and then that awful empty space is filled by a small, sleek shape tucked neat into the curve of Derek’s ankles, and something eases in Stiles’ chest. She’s little, Derek’s daemon, small enough to trick if positioned in the right way – like she had back in the forest the night after Scott was bitten, when there was just Derek with empty space all around and Tilly chacking nervously on Stiles’ shoulder.
“You’ll give someone a heart attack, if she keeps, like, ninja-hiding like that,” says Stiles.
“That’s what I want to talk to you about.”
“Uh, shouldn’t you be talking to the actual werewolf? Which, you know, not me.”
“I know. But he’ll take it better from you, and I think you’re more inclined to listen.”
There is a gleam of yellow-green in the dark, and Stiles flinches when he realises that Derek’s daemon has moved to barely a hand span away from him. The shape of her is distinctly catlike now that she is out of her human’s shadow, and that is another surprise. “Why’s that? And dude, aren’t, like, cats and dogs…?”
“I’m not a dog, and her name is Avius.”
“Tilly,” says Tilly, because she's like that. She clicks her beak and cocks her head. “Why do you think we’re more inclined to listen, Derek?”
“You,” says Derek, short. “People nowadays might ignore superstition about daemons, but there’s some truth to the old stories, if you know how to look. Magpies have more stories than most.”
“Do they,” says Stiles. “Again, you should really be talking to Scott—”
“You knew Scott was a werewolf even before he did. I think I’ve got the right person.”
Avius twitches an ear and takes a step closer, near enough that Stiles can feel his throat closing up. “Derek. Derek. Tell your daemon to keep her paws to herself.”
Derek’s eyes flare yellow and Avius is gone, twisted into a golden smoke that has Stiles scrambling backwards so fast he falls flat and smacks his head on the floor. Tilly chacks loud and angry as she is jostled free, her wings a stark black-white stutter across Stiles’ field of vision.
The gold dims and then Avius is there again, tucked into the crook of Derek’s arm. His expression is steady, mouth a stern crease beneath the dark wings of his brows.
“What the fuck was that,” says Stiles, pushing himself back up and reaching out an arm to receive Tilly as she bobs her head at him in agitation. The sharp prick of her claws is a comfort when she makes the short hop back to him. “Derek? What the fuck.”
“Werewolf daemons don’t work the same as human daemons,” says Derek.
Tilly squeezes her claws around Stiles’ arm, and he lets out a tight breath. “Yeah, I got that part.”
Avius blinks, slow, and he gets the feeling that it is significant in a way he can't understand.
* * *
Derek makes him turn on his desk lamp and then he sits on the end of Stiles’ bed, big square shoulders and narrow hips and oh fuck oh shit oh shit. Tilly flits to Stiles’ shoulder and nips his ear, and it feels like she's goading him.
Avius is still watching him, and Stiles has to look at his feet, cheeks burning.
“We’re faster, stronger, tougher than humans,” says Derek, and his voice has the measured tone of someone reciting from a deep memory. “With werewolves, there’s a lot of stories where people talk about the wolf as a separate identity, but—”
“She becomes part of you, doesn’t she,” cuts in Stiles. “Your daemon. Avius. Your daemon is the separate identity.”
“We become one soul, and that makes her safe,” says Derek.
“Dax disappeared the other day. We were gonna ask you about it.”
Derek nods, slow. “Dax is Scott’s daemon?"
“No, she’s his seamstress. What do you think?”
“I think you’re confused and trying to look out for your best friend, and the only way you know how to deal with things is by snarking at the closest target.”
Stiles stops, stared, lungs tight. Tilly is a cool, silent weight on his shoulder.
Avius begins to purr.
“Have a nice night, Stiles,” says Derek. He stands up from Stiles’ bed and goes to the window, and as he swings himself outside Avius’ purr cuts out and Stiles is alone.
* * *
Stiles knows a little about Erica. He knows a little more about Boyd, has heard the stories about why he sits alone and works alone. He’s seen Isaac as a shadow.
Others judge them by their daemons, but Stiles knows better. If he judged himself solely by Tilly he would be some demonic witch, and he isn’t either of those things. So he sees Erica’s coral snake and he doesn’t think that she lies about the extent of her epilepsy the way other students do. He sees Boyd’s mutt and he doesn’t think him a follower or a pushover, desperate for attention. He sees Isaac’s mouse and he doesn’t think him as a coward.
Your daemon is you, and you are beautiful. That’s the thing that everyone says, to children who cry on the playground when their daemons settle in a way they don’t like, to adults with bruise-coloured shadows under their eyes and haunted expressions. It’s empty, now, that phrase. It does nothing to heal the hurt. It does nothing to help those being pressured to match their daemon.
When Erica changes overnight, hair sleek, lips red and eyes lined, she matches her daemon for the first time in Stiles’ memory.
“My face is up here,” she says, leaning over his table.
“I was looking at your daemon,” says Stiles.
The snake is looped around her neck, bright polished colour over the curve of her breasts in her low-cut shirt. He makes Tilly look like an amalgamation of shadow and bone.
Erica – falters, for a second. Then the confidence is back and she bites into an apple as red as her lips and stalks away.
Stiles can only hope that she knows what her choice means.
* * *
People die, and their careful world of meshed relationships and gossip is fraying at every edge. Peter is dead, lost, but things aren’t getting better. Lydia is in scraps ever since that night she spent naked in the woods and Scott is trying so hard to hold it together but it just isn’t working.
Then the rave happens, and Stiles holds mountain ash in his hand and feels the world pulse in his fingertips as an impossible thing sparks from him, joins the loop. The feeling is of heat pressing out from every organ, a pressure that can’t be contained. The loop is complete but the feeling grows until Stiles is gasping in the cold night air, and the pulse in his fingers has travelled over his entire body. He can feel the throb of life inside the rave, colder pinpricks, can feel sharp teeth and poison veins—
He rides the sensation inside, to where Erica and Isaac are waiting.
Erica smiles at him, a flash of sharp white, her daemon a jewel bright glitter. Stiles nods at her and wonders what she thinks of him.
They take down the kanima but then it goes wrong and they run.
* * *
Stiles knows when Erica dies. He feels it as an ache beneath his breastbone, knows the exact moment from the way Tilly calls out and calls out and falls to the floor, pitching wildly on her feet.
Her daemon’s name was Surrexi. Stiles Googles it when he’s awake at 3am, and the result cuts into his bones. To regain strength.
He wishes she could have been his Catwoman.
* * *
Boyd dies and others die and it’s unfair and Stiles is seventeen, he isn’t ready for this.
He doesn’t think he could ever be ready for this.
All the while there’s this hum beneath his skin, threatening to push up and out. Deaton calls him a spark, and Stiles didn’t understand before but he thinks he does now and he doesn’t know how to feel.
Emissary, says Deaton, says Morrell.
Stiles stands on the porch of the ruined Hale house one morning and watches Tilly move away and keep on moving until she’s out of sight, while he feels nothing.
* * *
Lydia is a banshee, and they don’t know what that means.
Stiles is a witch, and they don’t know what that means.
It’s only when they’re sat on the bonnet of Stiles’ jeep with a bottle of ridiculously expensive wine in Lydia’s driveway that he realises that somewhere along the line he stopped viewing her as the girl of his dreams and started to view her as a person. Lydia is brilliant and flawed and they walk in confusion together through the murders, close in a way his younger self would have felt triumph over.
He’s grown up enough to be embarrassed at the thought of treating her as a trophy, a thing to be won.
“I got into Harvard,” says Lydia.
“I know,” says Stiles.
“Where are you going?”
“I don’t know.”
Lydia lifts the bottle, drinks, and her lipstick stays perfect. “You got into Harvard too, didn’t you?”
Stiles nods, takes the bottle from her when she offers it to him. It goes down sickly sweet, cloying in a way that makes his stomach flip. He presses it back into her hands and flops back against the windscreen, lets his head loll against the cool glass. “Scott didn’t.”
“Scott’s a big boy. He doesn’t need you to look after him.”
“I got that.”
Tilly hops onto his chest, nips his nose. He scowls at her.
“Your daemon’s right,” says Lydia. “And so am I. You can’t stay here for Scott. You have your own life to live.”
They finish the bottle.
* * *
Stiles’ roommate is a sweet kid with oversized glasses and an astounding array of patterned cardigans. His name is Josh and he stays out of Stiles’ way. Stiles doesn’t know how to feel about that.
Lydia is a three minute walk away and she’s already the queen of half the campus and has her professors wrapped around her little finger. She comes to his room, sees him huddled on his bed with his macbook while Josh works at his desk with his headphones in, and steps in. Half an hour later sees him with a coffee and her hand tucked into his arm, firmly guiding him to her own room.
“Ellie, this is Stiles,” she says, when she gets him up to her floor and into her room. He sits awkwardly on the end of her bed and watches as she charms Ellie up and out for an hour so that she can help Stiles with ‘boyfriend trouble.’
“You’re a frightening woman,” he says, when the door closes and she toes off her heels.
She flashes him a smile. “Good.”
Beacon Hills comes calling for them only a week later.
* * *
Thursdays for Stiles are a single seminar from three til five, and he usually turns up in a beanie with a brownie in one hand and a coffee in the other. It’s a class on contemporary American literature, and he enjoys it. The reading’s easy, and he bagged The Hunger Games for his presentation. No biggie.
He’s wearing his triskele earring today, is the thing, and when he takes his usual seat his seminar leader sees it and her eyes stick for a moment too long. He tips his coffee at her, crooks the corner of his mouth. “You like it?”
“It’s a nice piece,” she says, looking away. “What did you think about this week’s reading?”
“New favourite book.”
Another guy from the class shows up, a sleek tabby cat curled around his neck, and Stiles stops talking. He keeps an eye on his seminar leader the whole class but she doesn’t say anything. Tilly stays on his shoulder the entire time, uncharacteristically quiet.
His phone buzzes with ten minutes to go, but he's interrupted before he can read the message.
“Stiles, can I talk to you for a moment?”
“Uh, sure thing.”
“Is that triskele a fashion statement?"
It's his seminar leader, Alicia Hardy. Stands five feet six. Dark skin, dark eyes, her daemon a glossy beetle that shines amongst the loops of her hair. Stiles stands steady and takes this in with his shoulders relaxed.
He cocks his head. “What’s it to you?”
“She’s a witch,” says Tilly. “Not an emissary. A witch.”
“I prefer ‘freelancer.’”
Stiles’ phone buzzes again. “Sure. I, uh. What d’you want?”
“Your daemon is a bird, Stiles. You aren’t fooling anybody.”
“I really need to go."
“At least tell me what pack you’re with!”
Tilly chacks, feathers prickling out. Stiles takes a step away from Alicia, another. He gets to the doorway and she hasn’t made a move towards him. “It’s none of your business,” he says, and leaves with as much of a give-no-shits attitude as he can.
When Stiles checks his phone, the text says RUN.
* * *
Derek is a conglomeration of looming dark angles on Lydia’s fluffy flower-print duvet, and Stiles’ stomach sinks when he sees him. It’s been a while.
“It’s good to see you, Stiles.”
Derek’s eyes linger on the triskele earring, and Stiles’ face gets hot. He stands awkwardly by Lydia’s desk, hands twisted together. “I, uh. Yeah. Where’s Lydia?”
“Here,” she says, coming out of the tiny en suite bathroom her parents probably sold their souls to get her. She marches over to Stiles and grabs his head, tipping it roughly side to side and looking intensely into his face. He bats her away, Tilly fluttering over to the bed with an indignant squawk.
“He’s fine,” says Derek. “I’d smell it if he weren’t.”
“Sue me for wanting to check with my own eyes,” says Lydia, with the most perfectly executed eyeroll Stiles has ever seen. “Spill it, big boy. Why are we being graced with your presence?”
“There’s something rotten here, and it isn’t the cafeteria food.” Derek blinks at them when they both stare. “What?”
“You sound a little different to how I remember,” says Stiles.
Derek shrugs. “I got a cat. I fixed up the house. Turns out I should’ve done it sooner.”
“Rotten,” Lydia reminds him.
“Isaac was going to come and visit you guys, but he turned the car around halfway there and when he knew what he was doing next he was outside the house back at Beacon Hills. Says he can’t remember why, so I tried to call you. Didn’t go through. I come up and everything here – it stinks, but I couldn’t describe the smell to you. It’s just wrong. And then your seminar leader, Stiles. Witches don’t choose their whereabouts at random, and especially not ‘freelancers.’”
“How’d you know that?”
“Alicia Hardy is from an old family,” says Derek. “I know her. Let’s leave it at that.”
“Let’s not. You’re going to tell us everything we need to know, Derek, or it’s going to come and bite us on the ass and you know it.”
Lydia’s frightening when she’s angry.
“I’m not a witch. There’s not much I can tell you. They weren’t good people, but if Hardy’s out here on her own then I don’t know. I’d be wary of her.”
“Yeah, the text you guys sent didn’t scare the crap out of me at all,” says Stiles. “Thanks for that.”
Lydia’s mouth tightens. “What text?”
Things get a bit funky after that.
* * *
Derek stays with Stiles because Lydia is a queen and when Stiles began to have even the vaguest notion of protesting she raised a perfectly shaped brow at him and he shut his mouth so fast he nearly bit his tongue.
The walk to his room is pretty dang awkward.
“I have a roommate,” he says, as they reach his door. “His name is Josh. He’s nice. Don’t eat him.”
“Don’t threaten to rip his throat out with my teeth?” says Derek, and Stiles snorts a little.
He doesn’t rip out Josh’s throat with his teeth, but he does loom at him unnecessarily when Josh comes out of the bathroom after brushing his teeth. Josh jumps a mile, and Stiles has to stick his head under the pillow to not laugh.
Derek winks at him, and Stiles. Well. He doesn’t quite know what to do with that.
Tilly chacks and it sounds like a snigger.
* * *
Josh is gone when Stiles wakes up. He thinks it’s probably for the best.
Derek’s left a note on his pinboard. Gone out. Yeah, wow. Stiles totally couldn’t have figured that out for himself or anything. Super helpful, Mr Genius Wolfman. He sends a snapchat of it to Lydia and she replies with one of her unimpressed face and the comment what did you expect. She then sends him six texts regarding the properties of an early start and a healthy breakfast. He gets the message and shifts his ass into gear.
Half a chocolate muffin and a glass of soda is totally a balanced diet. He’s well into dragging it out and cherishing every crumb when his phone goes off.
He puts the muffin down, swallows. He pressed the lock button and pushes his phone away from himself as it continues to go off.
The door opens, and Stiles launches himself backwards. Something hot flares up in his gut and beneath his breastbone and there’s a flash of light that knocks him flat. He wheezes back his breath as his vision swims.
Derek comes into view, and the heat calms. “Stiles? What the hell?”
“I don’t know,” he says. “I got another text.”
Derek sighs, and it’s a tight, stressed sound. “Show me.”
* * *
“Do you think it’s Alicia?” asks Stiles, when Derek’s stood holding his phone in his giant paw hands and hasn’t moved for a solid minute.
“Okay. So, who is it?”
Stiles rolls his eyes, reaches over and snags back his phone. “It’s good to know you haven’t lost your flare for melodrama. Really. You should check out the theatre sometime, see if there aren’t any openings. They could really use someone with your talent.”
“Sniping at me isn’t helping any, you know.”
“Well, you know that’s how I deal, right?”
Derek looks up at him and Stiles’ mouth goes dry. “Yeah. I know.”
* * *
Stiles has a seminar and a lecture on Fridays, but Derek shadows him to both. He can’t come into the seminar so he sits outside, and Stiles doesn’t quite know how to respond to the appreciative nod his seminar leader gives him when he goes to leave and Derek puts a hand on his shoulder to guide him out. The lecture goes better, because Derek can actually come to that one. He’s not exactly inconspicuous with his big shoulders and leather, and Stiles is pretty sure that a guy from the punk crowd has the hots for him by the end of it, but no one calls him out for bringing a stranger.
He texts Lydia asking her to meet them outside the lecture theatre so they can go get lunch and she says she’ll be there, but when they get out she isn’t and that’s just not Lydia.
“This is too long,” says Derek, when ten minutes have passed.
“I know,” says Stiles. “Can you find her?”
Derek shakes his head. “Everything here is muffled by the smell. It’s messing with my senses.”
“Great. What now?”
“You’re the witch. Whatever happened when I walked in on you this morning was a witchy thing, wasn’t it? And Alicia’s here.”
“So?” Stiles doesn’t want to think about the way he blasted off his chair as a witchy thing. He doesn’t like thinking about the witchy thing at all.
“So, your powers aren’t muffled. You can find her.”
“That would be great if I could actually do shit,” says Stiles. “I’m a rocket ship without a launch procedure, dude.”
“You did plenty of launching this morning.”
“Fuck me if I know how,” says Stiles. Derek raises an eyebrow and god fucking damn it why did he choose now to get a sense of humour. “Uh. Yeah. No.”
His phone buzzes and Stiles jumps.
Stiles? I’m on my way.
It’s not like you to be held up.
I’m on my way.
“Something happened,” says Stiles, because he knows Lydia and he knows when she’s upset. It’s a privilege, really. He’s glad he grew out of his obsession with her and learned that yes, there’s a difference between loving someone and fetishizing them. He’s written enough essays on the topic in his Women Writers class, that’s for sure.
“It’s not sunshine and roses, if that’s what you mean.”
If Stiles shuffles a little closer to Derek, well, he’s good enough not to say anything about it. Tilly has to be smacked on the beak to be kept quiet.
There’s a swirl of movement below, and Stiles looks down to see Derek’s daemon looking up at him from behind Derek’s legs. She’s a wisp of smoke, his little wildcat, all vicious edges and wary stares. Stiles knows her well enough that he doesn’t pay her any attention. She doesn’t like people, and hates having to be in the open like this. As a born wolf’s daemon, she spends most of her time coiled up inside Derek’s head rather than in her physical form.
“She’s laughing at you,” Derek informs him. “Just so you know.”
“Great. Just what I needed.”
* * *
Lydia is a figure in fire-engine red, her eyes framed by exquisitely winged liner and her lips painted the glossy brightness of arterial blood. Sagacitas lopes along beside her, his plumed orange fur brushed into submission.
“Someone’s going to die,” she says, when she reaches them. “Tonight, outside the drama buildings.”
“Maybe you’ll get your shot at a role after all, Derek,” quips Stiles, because he really can’t do anything else.
“Who is it?” asks Derek, ignoring him.
“I don’t know. I just know that it’s going to happen.”
“We’re going to have to be there, aren’t we?” says Stiles. “Perfect.”
His phone buzzes, and Stiles takes it out of his pocket and pushes it into Derek’s chest. He’s resigned to it now, but it doesn’t mean he wants to be the first to see it. Even through the cage of Derek’s fingers he sees the capital R and the bottom falls out of his stomach.
“Seriously, what the fuck is up with that,” says Lydia. “Do we need to salt and burn your phone, Stiles? I’m feeling like we need to salt and burn your phone.”
“No, that shit’s expensive!”
“You’ve been watching too much Supernatural,” says Derek.
“No such thing as too much,” says Lydia. “Boys. Business.”
“We’re going to kill whatever’s going to kill the person,” says Derek.
Some things don’t change. Stiles rolls his eyes. “We’re going to do research.”
“I’m afraid we’re going with Stiles on this one, bad boy,” says Lydia. She reaches up and adjusts the collar of Derek’s leather jacket. “Come on. We’ve got work to do.”
It’s only the tremor at the corner of her lips that betrays how she’s really feeling.
* * *
Library research doesn’t work the way it does on TV and in the movies. It’s better to stick with online sources or search the library mainframe for relevant books rather than pouting sexily while looking through dimly lit aisles. Stiles did the second method at first, when he had his first few essays and wanted to be clever, but he quickly realised that it was taking forever and he just looked dumb.
They get set up in a row, Stiles and Lydia with their laptops and Derek on one of the clunky library PCs.
Surprisingly enough, ‘smell’ and ‘myth’ don’t really turn up much.
Conclusion: they’re fucked, and someone is going to die.
* * *
The gig venue on campus is a concrete square, poorly thought-out but with a big enough stage that nobody cared enough to try fixing it. Stiles went a couple of times as a fresher and woke up on his third night at college in a stranger’s bed with dried jizz in his pubes and a hickey on the underside of his jaw.
Losing his virginity really wasn’t as big a deal as he’d always thought it would be. He felt the same. It was kind of disappointing, especially following Scott’s perpetual honey-glow back in high school after Allison showed him a good time. Stiles didn’t really feel like that. He can’t even remember the girl’s name, just that she kissed wetly and he really doesn’t want to try eating a girl out again. Lydia told him it put his chances of a BJ into minus figures, but Stiles…he’s okay with that. He doesn’t tell her that, but he is. He guesses it makes him a pretty weird guy, but honestly, he doesn’t give enough of a fuck to care about that anymore. There are bigger concerns
RUN, says his phone, flashing at him from where he has it cupped loosely in the cradle of his hands. He’s almost used to it now.
“Smell anything?” he asks Derek, who keeps staring at the gig venue and just shakes his head mutely.
“One hour,” says Lydia. Her voice is tight. Stiles can see her breath misting in the air.
It isn’t cold.
* * *
People start arriving with forty-five minutes to go, and when half an hour rolls around it’s packed. Stiles hasn’t heard of the band himself and when he says so Lydia gives him a disapproving look.
“At least listen to Honeybee,” she says. “It’s their most popular song on Youtube.”
“I smell something,” says Derek, and they both shut up.
“There’s still twenty-three minutes to go,” says Lydia, but she sounds uncertain.
Stiles swallows. “What is it?”
“Something rotten,” says Derek, and his eyes flare red.
Stiles looks away from him and back to the shuffling crowd, eyes jumping from face to face. He sees – he sees his seminar leader, Alicia Hardy. The witch. “Her?” he asks, pointing her out. “Is it her?”
“—No,” says Derek, a bit reluctantly. “It smells like a daemon.”
“Twenty minutes,” says Lydia. “Hurry up, boys.”
“It’s a daemon,” says a whisper of a voice, and Stiles jumps a little when Avius steps out from somewhere, her fur like smoke and her eyes brilliant. “We’re right. It’s rotten.”
“How can a daemon be rotten?”
Tilly chacks, and it’s quiet and reedy. “A daemon can take any form,” she says, and it sounds like a confession.
“So what? What are we supposed to do?”
“I don’t know,” says Tilly. “I’m sorry, Stiles. I only know as much as you do.”
“We can’t just sit back and let someone die!”
“We’re not going to do that,” says Derek. “We’re going to kill it before it kills them.”
“Guys,” says Lydia.
“And what if we can’t kill it? What then, genius?”
“Have you got any better ideas?”
Stiles tries to track her line of sight, but all he sees is a mass of people. “What?”
“There’s a little kid.”
“I thought you said this was a family band?”
“Yeah, but – I think that kid’s by herself. Look.”
This time Stiles spots what Lydia’s looking at – a girl who can’t be over five years old, squatted in the grass by the side of the crowd. She’s trailing a stick over the ground in front of her, but her eyes are fixed on the people shuffling past her.
Stiles can’t see her daemon, and he knows what Lydia’s thinking. “It could just be in a small form right now,” he says, but even to himself it sounds half-hearted.
Derek growls, a low, inhuman sound that sets Stiles’ teeth on edge and then he’s moving and Stiles knows he won’t be able to stop him and he’s going to kill a kid, oh my god, he’s going to kill a little kid—
Except Derek does stop. He sits down with his muscles still straining, and when Stiles looks away from him and back towards the girl she’s standing and is looking straight at them. “Fuck,” he whispers. He reaches blindly backwards and grabs Lydia’s wrist. “Fuck, fuck."
“Five minutes,” Lydia tells him, her voice quaking.
The girl is moving towards them, her steps stretching out until she’s running flat-out, too fast for a child and god she’s changing, getting taller, claws sprouting from her fingertips. Stiles grabs Derek by one elbow and Lydia grabs him by the other and they haul him backwards, his rigid body a dead weight they can barely shift. “Fucking move!”
Stiles reaches deep and fucking finally there’s that heat again, his magic, and Derek is freed and between one breath and the next he’s in his full alpha form, rearing up to meet the girl-creature with a roar that makes Stiles’ bladder squeeze. Lydia fists her hand into the neck of his shirt and drags him out of the way, and they crawl on their bellies underneath a car parked by the side of the road only a few metres away. Sagacitas wraps himself around them and it’s then that Stiles gasps, “Tilly, Tilly—”
“She’ll be okay,” says Lydia, and her grip on him is vice-tight. “Stiles. You can’t go out there. You’ll die, you’re only human!”
“I’m a witch, aren’t I?” he snaps back. “What the fucking use is it if I can’t help my daemon, of all people?”
The car above them jolts, and Lydia screams. It’s just below banshee-range but Stiles’ head still throbs, and the noise from the fight subsides as abruptly as it started. Beyond that Stiles can hear the panic of a frightened and confused crowd. “Is it over?” he whispers. “Did Derek kill her?”
“Sadly, no,” says Alicia Hardy, from where she’s stooped looking under the car at them. “Stiles.”
“Hi,” he says. “Uh.”
“Hale pack,” she says. She nods. “Not bad.”
“McCall pack,” corrects Lydia.
Hardy raises an eyebrow. “You run with the furry golden boy himself? Then how come he’s got another alpha running around after his pack members?”
“It’s kind of a coalition,” says Stiles.
“How did that happen?"
“Can we explain it when we’re not hiding under a car?” asks Lydia. “And forgive me for asking, but what is a freelancing witch doing teaching here?”
“Forgive me for being multifaceted,” says Hardy. “It’s clearly a character flaw of mine.”
Sagacitas crawls out from under the car and it’s only then that Stiles realises that he’d been touching him. He committed taboo, stuck under a car round the back of the gig venue while a fight happened overhead. It’s not exactly a glamorous picture of college life.
Lydia knows it too, and when she glances at him before following Sagacitas out Stiles sees a silent apology.
He just wishes he knew what for.
* * *
Derek is a mass of healing wounds when they get to him, hidden round the back of a tree only twenty feet from the dregs of the milling crowd. Hardy shakes her had when she sees them glancing back at the people with worried expressions. “Don’t worry. I’ve got a shield up. They can’t see us.”
“Someone just died,” whispers Lydia.
“What? But the fight – it’s over,” says Stiles. “Who was it?”
“I don’t know."
“I lost her,” admits Derek. “I got her good, I thought, but then she just threw me off like I was nothing and ran back into the crowd.”
“Whoa, hang on – she threw off an alpha werewolf?” asks Stiles.
“She wasn’t a little kid anymore,” says Derek. “She was a monster.”
Any werewolf using a word like that is no small deal, but a born wolf, with a history of trauma?
“Welcome to the big leagues, kids,” says Hardy. “Shit’s about to get real.”
* * *
“I heard about the Deucalion debacle,” says Hardy. “I’m sorry about the wolves you lost.”
Derek dips his head, looks away.
They’ve relocated to Hardy’s office, up on the top floor of the Arts and Humanities building. It’s empty bar for them and a few cleaners, and Hardy has wards laid thick on every surface. Stiles feels them as a warm hum low in his gut, sees them as a shimmer out of the corner of his eye. He doesn’t think Derek and Lydia can see anything of them.
“It started a while back,” she continues. “This – disquiet. Wolves say it smells, but to witches it makes our skin crawl. It makes us feel uncomfortable, restless. I don’t know how far you are on your training, Stiles, but you can probably attribute any trouble you had adjusting to the move here to the situation.”
“I, uh, yeah,” he says, because he can’t really admit that he didn’t know anything was wrong when they’re all looking at him so expectantly.
“Deaton says you’ve got the most powerful spark on the whole west coast,” says Hardy, and her gaze has turned shrewd. “Coming from him, I’m willing to believe it.”
“Have you figured out what it is yet?” asks Lydia, and Stiles flashes her a grateful look.
“It’s a lot of things,” says Hardy. “It’s fucking scary, is what it is. You’re lucky to be alive.”
“Yeah, well, someone wasn’t so lucky. Is that really all you know?” Lydia has that set to her jaw that means she’s on the warpath. “Because that’s fuck all and you know it, don’t you?”
“Hey, I’m not pleased with it either,” says Hardy.
“Well, what have we got to go off?” asks Stiles, trying to diffuse the tension.
Lydia purses her lips. “A shape shifter of some kind, but with more freedom of shape than a wolf. Unnatural even to a born were. It’d be obvious, really, if we weren’t too scared to say it.”
“What?” says Stiles, lost.
“She was a daemon,” says Lydia.
“She was human,” says Stiles.
“Daemons can be human.”
“Not that I know of. It’s just one of those – things. You know. That people don’t do.”
“Daemons can be human,” Lydia repeats. “Daemons can be anything.”
Stiles turns to Derek, who stands leaning on Hardy’s desk with his head bowed. “Derek? You would have felt it, right? If she was a daemon?”
“She didn’t feel like Avius,” says Derek. “She felt like a nightmare.”
“That doesn’t rule it out,” says Lydia.
Stiles shakes his head. “It doesn’t make it a sure thing, either. I mean, where was her human? And to not be settled, it would have to be a kid – she’d have to be a kid’s daemon. That’s fucked up.”
Lydia touches his elbow. “Sometimes things are fucked up.”
“Well, that sucks.”
“Yeah, it does, so what’re you gonna do about it?”
Stiles looks sharply up at Hardy, sees her giving him an assessing stare. “What?”
“I’m not going to risk my neck fucking around with a daemon gone wrong. I’ve got kids and a wife back home. So what’re you guys gonna do about it?”
“We’re going to call in some help,” says Derek
“Deaton?” asks Stiles.
* * *
Allison got the third-best grades in the year after Lydia and Stiles, and Stiles can’t help but sympathise with the normal high schoolers who must’ve looked at their unfairly smart, unfairly attractive (at least in Lydia and Allison’s case) little clique and wept inside. She could’ve gone to a great law school or even into medicine, but she dropped out entirely and grabbed her heritage with both hands. Chris was a bit reluctant at first, after all he’d done to try and save her from the wreck hunting had turned his own life into, but Allison wanted it and in the end he chose to guide her through it himself rather than forcing her to outsource her training and get hurt.
She completed her training as a hunter over the summer following graduation and began hunting in the fall, all Supernatural: Father & Daughter edition. Stiles respects Allison a fuckton for being so steady about what she wants. She’s scary and smart, scary-smart and brilliant and he’s very glad she’s on their side, trained by a hunter like Chris rather than one like Gerard or Kate.
Lydia’s the one who calls her, and in under five minutes she hangs up and says that Allison is on her way.
“You're calling just one girl?” says Hardy, raising an eyebrow.
“She’s good at what she does,” says Stiles.
Lydia narrows her eyes. “The best.”
“I’ll leave you kids to it, then,” says Hardy, gesturing to the door. “Good luck.”
* * *
Allison came alone and fucking Christ the trunk of her car looks like a serial killer’s wet dream and wow, she really hasn’t changed at all except for where she has. She looks the same, but now the danger isn’t a subtle thing at all. She wears it in the creases of her clothes, in the corner of her smile. Allison is dangerous as fuck and she knows it. Stiles hugs her and doesn’t say anything much, tells her he likes the new look. She knows what he means, and smiles at him.
“Come on,” she says to Lydia. “Let’s go digging.”
“It’s really beneath me to be used as a Geiger counter for death, you know,” says Lydia, rolling her eyes even as she tucks a hand into the crook of Allison’s elbow and turns her in the direction of the gig venue. She doesn’t look afraid even considering what happened there, and Stiles knows it’s because Allison makes her feel safe.
He looks over at Derek, stood like a gravestone beside him, and kind of wishes he’d gone with them. “So, big D,” he begins, awkward. “What’s the plan for the Dynamic Duo?”
“The plan is lunch, Shortpants,” says Derek. “You’re buying.”
It’s a lie. Derek pays for everything, nudges Stiles out of the way of the cashier with the force of a small mountain. Stiles gets a coffee, black, and one of his beloved brownies. Derek gets this strawberry iced drink that has a magnificent squirty cream pompadour, and Stiles stares at it like the world has broken in two.
“I didn’t, uh, peg you as a strawberry kind of guy.”
“That’s a bit narrow-minded of you, isn’t it? Besides, it’s a Resplendent Raspberry Ice Kiss. No strawberries involved.”
Tilly makes a sound like a deflating balloon, tortured and high-pitched enough that it has Stiles sinking down in his chair. Derek watches them both, face innocent, and Stiles chants fuck fuck fuck internally until his dick stops trying to punch a hole through the table. It’s not like Derek has even done anything.
Who is he fucking kidding. This is flirting, isn’t it? It feels like flirting.
Stiles hopes that it’s flirting.
The mood is cut short less than a minute later when his phone goes off, and the message has Stiles folding his hands together to keep them from shaking.
IT’S TOO LATE TO RUN.
Then, after another minute:
I LIKE YOUR DAEMON. SHE’S PRETTY.
* * *
“Stiles, we’ve got to go. Lydia called. Stiles?”
“Coming,” he says, standing. He bumps the table on his way up and Derek eyes him strangely. “What?”
“You seem a bit – out of it.”
“My daemon was just threatened,” says Stiles. “What do you fucking expect, huh?”
Tilly lights on his shoulder and tucks the cool point of her beak behind his ear. Stiles reaches up and touches her claws with his fingertips. When she first settled he’d always hurt a little inside, unable to hold her like others could with their daemons. He’s older, now, knows her and knows why they fit. He’s seen enough arthropod daemons to know he has it easy.
He can’t think of not having her, not without a dull ache starting up behind his eyes, but the message is pushing him that way.
“They found a body, Stiles.”
The Derek with the quips and the smiles is gone now. There’s no sympathy in those eyes.
Stiles swallows around the lump in his throat and follows Derek out the door.
* * *
“We haven’t reported it yet,” says Allison, when Derek and Stiles catch up to the girls. “But I’m giving us twenty minutes, tops, before we have to call it in and get the hell out of here.”
It’s a girl with glitter paint on her cheeks, her hair still holding some semblance of a styled curl. She’s young. It hurts to look at her, and when Stiles finally brings himself to do it he reels back, gagging. “Oh my fucking Jesus on a pogo stick what the fuck what the fuck—”
She has no eyes, no teeth. Beneath the glitter paint her cheeks have sunken in, and her skin has a strange, rubbery texture that makes Stiles’ skin crawl.
“Eyes, teeth, nails removed,” says Allison, stepping in a neat circle around the girl. “Some weird effect on the skin.”
“It looks almost like latex,” says Derek.
Stiles can’t. That’s a person they’re talking about, with their voices pitched to such a careful degree of casual. That’s a person and she’s dead and they could have saved her.
“We couldn’t,” whispers Tilly, into his ear. She shifts her wing against the side of his head and it feels like both rebuke and comfort. “Stiles, we couldn’t. We don’t know how to use our powers yet.”
“That makes two of us,” says Lydia.
“Not joining in on the party?” asks Stiles, and he’s frightened by how strange he sounds. “Y’know, the double act over there.”
“Someone’s dead,” she says. “There isn’t a party.”
“Uh, I. Sorry.”
“I know what you mean, though,” she says, taking a small step closer. “I don’t know how they do it.”
Derek looks up at them at that, and his eyes are sharp on Stiles’ face. The stern cut of his mouth is weighted with something beyond today; something Stiles recognises. “I know how,” Stiles tells her, quiet.
Lydia purses her lips, stands a little straighter. Stiles knows that she understands.
Derek and Allison can stand over a body because a stranger is nothing compared to those you love.
This makes Stiles clench his fists, though, because he can’t do it. He can’t stand there with them over the body. He sees the stranger and then his mom is there and he can’t, he has to step away before he’s crushed by what it makes him feel. He can’t even be of use here, where the danger has already been and gone.
“People react to things differently,” says Tilly. “Our heart lies close to the surface, Stiles. There’s no shame in that.”
His phone buzzes, and everyone stops. Stiles glances over at Derek and sees fang, for a moment, blinks in surprise and then it’s gone again. A growl lingers in the air, though, and it judders deep into his bones.
“You don’t have to check it,” says Lydia. “I can look for you.”
“It’s all right,” says Stiles, because really, he has to do something.
SHE WAS WRONG. WRONG. WRONG. WRONG. WRONG. WRONG. WRONG AND HER DAEMON WAS UGLY. WRONG AND HER DAEMON WAS UGLY.
NOT LIKE YOU.
NOT LIKE YOUR DAEMON.
He reads the last few words and his chest is on fire, straining around the force of the magic buzzing inside him. When he’s done he flings his cell away from him as hard as he can and wills the buzzing up and out—
It crumbles to ash in mid-air and the buzzing calms. Stiles takes a deep breath, another, ends up on the floor with his head between his knees while Tilly makes panicked noises and pecks nervously at his hair.
“—Stiles? What the fuck was that?”
“It was just wizard,” he says, into the dark comfort of his jeans. “Wizard. You get it. Because I’m a wizard.”
“Stiles,” and it’s Lydia, now, and something in him quiets a bit when she rests a hand on his left shoulder. “Stiles, what did it say?”
“It wants me,” he says, refusing to look at any of them. “It wants Tilly.”
* * *
Derek stays in Stiles’ room again that night, much to Josh’s bewilderment. Stiles doesn’t even care about the look he gets when he snags Derek’s wrist and pulls him onto the shitty single bed with him.
“Just don’t, uh, just don’t do the thing while I’m in the room, man,” says Josh, and wow, you could build entire cities with the quantity of awkward that just got dumped on the room.
“I’m sure I can restrain myself from ravishing this strapping figure of manliness for one night,” says Derek.
“I’m not sure,” says Stiles, getting into it. “Have you seen my ass in Jurassic Park sweatpants? It’s something to behold.”
“Oh my god, I’m sorry I said anything, okay,” says Josh, making a big show of rolling over and pulling a pillow over his face.
* * *
“Are you okay?” asks Derek, once Josh is asleep.
“No,” says Stiles.
“I want you to be okay,” says Derek. “I know that’s a selfish thing to say, but. I want you to be okay.”
“Fuck. I. Fuck.”
“No, it’s. It wouldn’t be fair.”
“Just. No. I want it to be fair, okay?” A big hand cups the side of Stiles’ face, thumb brushing gently over his cheekbone. “Not like this. Not when we’re scared.”
“I’m not scared,” says Stiles.
“You are,” says Derek. “I know I am.”
“What could you be scared of? You’re—”
“I’m scared of losing you,” says Derek, cutting him off. “I know it’s not fair to say that. We’ve never been the closest of friends or anything, and when everyone left for college things got – strained. But I don’t want to lose you to something like this. I want to lose you to old age, sixty years from now. I want it to be quiet and gentle and happy. I don’t want to lose you to a nightmare.”
“…Oh,” says Stiles, ever the eloquent one. “That’s. Wow.”
He can feel Derek closing off, the hand on his face retreating. Stiles doesn’t let himself think. He just grabs it in his own and laces their fingers together, squeezes tight. His heart feels just about ready to burst out of his chest.
“Stiles,” whispers Derek, and he sounds pained.
“I’m scared,” admits Stiles. “I don’t want to lose you, either.”
* * *
When Stiles wakes up his eyes are blurred with pain and his tongue is a fat, bloated mess stuck along the roof of his mouth. His head is pounding.
“Get up,” says Derek, breath tickling Stiles’ ear. “It’s Lydia.”
Stiles’ body is shot through with tension at those words, and he lies there as if in rigor mortis. Sometime in the night they’d moved, and Stiles had ended up the little spoon. Derek was a comforting bulk at his back.
“What did she say?” asks Tilly, because she knows Stiles can’t talk.
“Someone else is going to die,” says Derek.
They roll out of bed and head out, pausing only to pull jackets on over their pajamas. Derek brought a duffel with him from Beacon Hills, and Stiles can’t say he isn’t disappointed about not having to lend him one of his own shirts. He wondered if they’d still be as tight as they had back when he was sixteen and Derek was muscle and anger on two legs.
Josh’s daemon, a chameleon, watches them with its odd spinning eyes as they go. Its head cocks curiously, and it moves as if to turn and speak to Josh, only Avius steps out of Derek’s shadow and hisses at it, ears flattened back. Her tail is a slowly-moving wisp of darkness, and Josh’s daemon watches it in transfixed disquiet.
The chameleon lowers itself to lie flat on its belly and very deliberately turns its eyes away from them. Avius flicks her tail and steps back into Derek’s shadow, her form unwinding into pitch darkness. “She won’t bother us,” she says, before she’s gone again.
“Your daemon scares me, just so you know,” whispers Stiles, as they head out the door.
“She scares me, too,” says Derek.
* * *
Lydia and Allison are waiting for them in the quad that sits in the middle of campus, sat at the bottom of the flight of steps that leads up to the Arts building. There’s a cheeseburger resting on Allison’s knees, but Lydia has nothing. She’s staring straight at the library, and Stiles knows even before they reach her where the next death is going to happen.
“That girl’s name was Sophie Honcharenko,” says Allison, when Stiles and Derek sit down next to them. “The place where we found her is off-limits. There’s just cops at the moment, but given the way her body looks and the fact that someone else is going to go the same way inside of a day, I’m betting on them calling in the feds before the week is out.”
“Sophie Honcharenko,” says Stiles. He bites at the inside of his cheek. “Why did it take her, though, and not the people who attacked it? Why not us?”
“Easier victim,” says Derek. “This thing is rotten. It cared more about killing than winning a fight, and running was the best way to do that.”
Lydia stands up and folds her arms under her breasts. She keeps her back to them, and her shoulders are squared. “We have five hours and twenty-seven minutes,” she tells them. “Somehow I don’t think attacking is going to work on this thing, so what’s the plan?”
“I’m gonna call my dad,” says Allison, crumpling up her burger wrapper in one hand and standing. She pockets it and rubs her hands together to get rid of the crumbs before getting her cell out and lifting it to her ear. “I’ll be a couple minutes, ‘kay?”
They watch her as she moves a little way from them, away from distractions.
“I Googled the injuries last night,” says Lydia, after a moment. “Stuff like that, creatures that do that – they’re mythical.”
“Daemons can’t be mythical creatures,” says Stiles, but it comes out weak.
“We can,” says Tilly, soft. “Daemons are pure imagination. We can be anything our children want us to be. It’s just – taboo, as much as another human touching us is taboo.”
Stiles and Lydia glance at each other and then away, mouths curled down at the corners.
“I was a sphinx for you, sometimes,” says Sagacitas. It’s the first time Stiles has ever heard the daemon speak. His voice is a pleasant baritone that sits well with his intelligent eyes. “Do you remember, Lydia?”
“I do,” says Lydia, but she sounds a little strained. “But – there are stories about daemons that settle as myths. In the original version of Little Red Riding Hood the little girl’s daemon settled as a werewolf and killed her grandma and father, and the bloodshed only stopped when the girl stepped in and killed her own daemon.”
“I know,” says Sagacitas. “That is why I did not settle as a sphinx, for all it would have suited us. People are frightened of what they do not understand, and they tell stories that are spun from fear.”
“—Dad says it sounds like something a cousin came across once, down in Mexico,” says Allison, coming back to them. She looks between them, taking in their expressions. “Did something happen?”
“No,” says Lydia. “What did your dad say?”
“Said it was like something out of Aztec mythology,” says Allison. Her eyes are fixed on Lydia’s face. “You gonna tell me what was going on just then?”
“We were just talking about daemon taboo,” says Avius, from where she sits tucked between Derek’s feet. “I don’t understand why you humans and your daemons get all het up about it.”
There’s a thunderous growl that makes Stiles clench his toes inside his shoes. Allison’s daemon, a lanky dark wolf, has been quiet until now. Stiles forgot how intimidating he could be when he wasn’t trying to pass as a dog.
“Easy, Roc,” says Allison, fisting a hand in his ruff. He quiets but remains tense. Avius stares straight at him and flicks an ear, carefully nonchalant.
“We have different ways of living,” says Roc. “She should respect that.”
“Guys, uh, maybe we should stop fighting and get shit sorted,” says Stiles. “Allison, you said Aztec, right?”
“Yeah. Ahuizotl. I don’t know what it is, but Dad said that we have to be careful.” She paused. “I didn’t know daemons could take the form of mythical creatures.”
“That’s, uh, what we were just talking about,” says Stiles. He winces when Lydia flashes him a sharp look.
“It’s taboo,” says Roc.
“Taboo doesn’t stop some people,” says Derek, his tone measured. “We’re going to have to talk about it if we want to save some lives.”
“My daemon did it,” says Lydia, and she looks frightened. “That’s what we were talking about, Allison. Sagacitas did it, before he settled.”
Roc’s shoulders slacken. “But why?”
“It felt right,” says Sagacitas. “Perhaps you shouldn’t be so quick to judge, Ferocia. We were only children.”
“This daemon’s human must be a child, too, and see what has happened,” growls Roc.
“Murderers have had wolf daemons,” Sagacitas shoots back. “A daemon’s form is a complex thing.”
“Five hours and nine minutes,” says Lydia, cutting them all short. “We need our act together and do something, guys.”
Allison nods, takes a deep breath. “Okay. A child has an unsettled daemon that takes on taboo forms. The daemon can change shape but the kid can’t, so, somewhere on campus, there’s a fucked-up kid. We can’t beat the daemon but we can get the kid.”
“My nose is still out of commission,” says Derek. “I can be all ears, but I don’t know how useful that’s going to be.”
“I was gonna ask Stiles, actually,” says Allison.
Stiles blinks. “Uh, what?”
“You’re a witch.”
“Yeah, but I don’t know how to control any of it,” says Stiles. “I can to a certain extent, but I don’t know how much use I can be.”
“It’s better than nothing,” says Allison. “We’ve got five hours for you to learn some control or someone’s gonna die.”
“No pressure,” says Tilly, from her place on Stiles’ shoulder.
* * *
“We need a locator spell,” says Lydia, because Stiles has frozen and he doesn’t know what to do, he doesn’t—
“Library?” asks Allison.
“Lore books,” says Derek. “If we were in Beacon Hills there would be the books that were saved from the house, but. I guess that’s not much use.”
Stiles shakes his head. “No, no! Is there someone in Beacon Hills? Who’s there? There must be someone, I mean, Allison was there—”
“Isaac,” says Allison. “He’s staying with your dad, actually. We can call him. I mean, he has keys to the house anyway, so.”
Lydia already has her phone out and pressed to her ear. She winks at them as she starts to talk. “Hi, Isaac? No, honey, there’s nothing wrong. Well. There might be a little something. Okay. No, honey, it’s okay. Just listen. Isaac. Listen. Okay? Okay. We need you to go to the house and see if there’s anything in Derek’s old family books about a locator spell. Yes, I know, that’s a wide topic. Yes. I know. But, hey, I think you can do it. Yeah, of course I do! I’m hanging up now.” She pulls her phone away and taps her thumb on the screen, pursing her lips. “Well. I’m sure he’ll be fine.”
“We could ask Hardy,” says Stiles.
“She has people to lose,” says Lydia.
“And we don’t? It’s not stopping us from trying. I don’t even care, okay. If she can show me how to do something then she doesn’t have to get her hands dirty at all.”
“D’you think she’ll still be in her office?” asks Derek.
Stiles shrugged. “Do I look like a psychic?”
“Well, you are a witch.”
“Oh, don’t even start.”
* * *
Hardy isn’t in her office. She’s waiting for them in the entrance of the arts building, one hand on her hip and the other clutching a binder jammed full of sheets. “Hey,” she says, when they reach her. “Knew you’d be back.”
“Yeah, sure,” says Lydia. “You know why we’re here, right? Then cut the mystery and help us before someone else dies.”
“I’d be a terrible witch if I couldn’t ordain something as simple as intent,” says Hardy, and she’s staring right at Stiles.
“You’re an asshole,” says Tilly.
Hardy blinks at her, raises an eyebrow. “Is that really the attitude to take with the person who’s going to save your asses?”
“Take a look at your attitude,” says Lydia. “Someone’s going to die, and you’ve got this whole – act going on. Get over yourself and help us!”
“I really thought you’d know a locator spell by now,” says Hardy, taking a single casual step towards them. “Stilinski. You are a prodigy, after all.”
“I’m really not,” he says.
“No, I don’t think you are,” she says. Her brows crease. “I don’t quite know what Deaton was playing at. He talked about you a lot, you know.”
“When exactly did you meet Deaton to have this talk, again?” asks Stiles.
“He’s like the emissary version of Beyoncé,” says Hardy. “Except less fabulous. Everyone knows him and his opinions.”
“That doesn’t sound a whole lot like a personal conversation.”
“Look, kid. You want help or what?”
Roc steps out from where he’s been leaning against Allison’s leg and growls, low and menacing. Hardy’s beetle shufflies its wing casings, and her eyes flick down to Roc and don’t move. “Start talking,” says Allison. “These are lives you’re busy playing games with. If you don’t start cooperating I’m gonna make you.”
“You’d mess with a witch?” asks Hardy. “Are you sure about that?”
“Lady, I’ve been a part of this messed-up supernatural world since I was seventeen,” says Allison. “I’m pretty sure, yes.”
“Okay,” says Hardy.
Stiles can’t quite believe it. “Okay?”
“Yeah,” she says. “Magic is a bitch, you know. I’m not about the teach it to someone who doesn’t have the balls to make me spill the beans.”
“That was Allison,” says Stiles.
“She’s your pack,” says Hardy. “Still counts. Come on, kid. My office, pronto. Everyone else, stay put. You’ll just get in the way.”
Derek’s lip curls, but he stays. Stiles glances back at them before they’re eclipsed from view by the sliding doors of the arts building lobby, and their faces are terse.
The building is deserted. Stiles hadn’t really noticed it at first but the further into the building they go the more starkly apparent it becomes. “Where are all the people?” he asks, wary of the answer.
“I’ve been casting charms all over the campus that make people turn around and go home,” says Hardy. “It goes a little ways toward protecting people.”
Isaac went back to Beacon Hills without knowing why. “Isaac, he’s, uh. A packmate. He tried to come visit and just ended up back home, but that was a while ago.”
“This has been going on for longer than you’d think,” says Hardy.
“Long enough for me to want it to be over.”
“But – how? If people are dying, then. How? You can’t just hide the deaths.”
“Can’t you?” Hardy shoots back. “How about your own Beacon Hills? All those deaths and all that blood, and nobody’s left. People don’t see the danger, Stiles. They don’t want to.”
They get to her office, and Stiles watches as she locks the door and then lays a line of mountain ash at its foot. There’s a momentary stillness as she concentrates and then Stiles’ insides flare with the heat of working magic as the ash jumps in an impossible loop, encircling the room at all edges and sealing them inside.
“Do you know who it is? The kid?” he asks. She’s facing away from him, and he stares at the nape of her neck. “It’s a kid, right? I mean, the daemon is unsettled. It has to be.”
“Why would you think I know who it is?” she returns, and Stiles doesn’t miss how careful she is to keep her tone even. “I want the fucker put down as much as you do.”
“Yeah, I’m doubting that a little,” says Stiles.
Hardy turns and meets his eyes, and her own flare with something he can’t put a name to. “Yeah, well, you’re just gonna have to trust me,” she says. “Are you ready to be a big boy, little witch? Real magic burns, you know.”
“I’m ready,” he says, even though he feels anything but.
“We’re ready,” echoes Tilly.
She’s right. It does burn.
* * *
He knows what she does, vaguely. She touches his neck, the tattoos Deaton made him get when he turned eighteen, paints over them with something dark and lush with power.
“Mountain ash and ink,” she tells him, eyes fixed on the tiny brush in her hands. It’s a worn thing, no more than a rough twig with wiry bristles, but she handles it with remarkable deftness. “You’ll know how to do this, one day.”
He can’t see what she’s drawing on him, but he knows acutely what she does next.
She grabs Tilly, and then he’s on the floor, gasping, head splitting, and Tilly—
“It’s just a feather,” says Hardy, letting her go. “Daemons are made of magic. Batteries.”
“Tilly isn’t a battery,” Stiles bites out, from where his cheek is pressed against her office floor.
“You’re young. You’ll come round.” She winks at him, takes a lighter out of a drawer in her desk, then flicks it. The feather she’s holding – green-blue-black with perfect white fluting – goes up in an instant, but it doesn’t go ashy. Instead a delicate whorl of golden light fizzles into the air, and Hardy traps it inside a jar before it has chance to dissipate. “This,” she tells him, crouching down, “This is power, Stiles. This is what being a witch means.”
“Burning bits of my daemon for voodoo?”
“Sacrificing yourself for the whole,” Hardy counters. “She’s your daemon. She’s your soul. Remember that, when you cast in the future. Every spell – that’s a piece of yourself that you can’t get back.”
Hardy shakes her hand and stands. “Get up, Stiles. Time to shine.”
That’s when her window explodes inwards, glass gone from a clear pane to a thousand gleaming shards. Hardy turns, a spell on her lips, and Stiles sees a sheen in the air that stops most of the shards from reaching them. A few make it, though, and Stiles’ stomach flips when he sees them hit Hardy. Adrenaline brings nausea but also a newfound strength that has him scrambling backwards on all fours and scooping up a little of the mountain ash that she had used to line the door. It sits dark and heavy in his hand, weighted with something beyond its physical form, and he cups it with utmost care as he stares up, past Hardy, to the broken window beyond.
Something dark reaches up against the sky, grips the shattered frame. It’s a clawed hand two, three times the size of a human one, coated in wiry black fur. Hardy squares her stance and the sheen in the air increases.
“Hardy—” he begins, getting to his feet. “C’mon, let’s—”
“Get out of here,” she snarls. “Go!”
“But what about—”
She throws a hand behind her and Stiles feels a dull whump of impact that lifts him off his feet and throws him backwards towards the door, which opens for him and then closes again. He tries the handle but it won’t budge, and the mountain ash has started to slip from his hands.
Hardy screams, and it goes on long and gurgling until she chokes and goes quiet. Stiles backs away from the door, presses himself flat against the opposite wall.
There’s a tug beneath his breastbone that alerts him to the space at his side. “Tilly?” he whispers, but he knows.
She’s still in the office.
That’s Derek, already halfway to wolf and coming up the corridor fast. The others must be a little way behind him. “Tilly’s in there,” says Stiles. “She’s—”
Derek goes full wolf and shoulder-barges the door, which shudders but doesn’t shift. There’s a deafening roar from inside the room which Derek answers with head thrown back and fur bristling.
The door won’t move, and fuck knows how Tilly has stayed unnoticed for this long. The door won’t move because Hardy spelled it. Mountain ash. Derek could throw himself against it for a thousand years, and it still won’t shift.
Stiles has to do this. He doesn’t have the knowledge of Deaton or Hardy, though. He doesn’t know how to do this. He just – has to.
The tug beneath his breastbone tightens, turns into pain. There’s a shrill, panicked cry from inside the office. Tilly.
“Stiles,” says Derek, eyes wide. His hands hang loose at his sides, and Stiles knows that he’s realised that he can’t do anything. That Stiles can. “Stiles,” says Derek, again. “You can do this.”
There’s heat, deep in Stiles’ bones, rising up to his skin and in the back of his throat. His mouth tastes like hot metal. I believe I can do this, he thinks, and he’s never felt conviction like this before, a certainty that cinches tight around his heart and then releases.
The door opens – is blasted clean off its hinges, smacking right into the creature still inside the office. It tumbles backwards, squealing, and Derek darts in and grabs Tilly from where she had taken refuge under Hardy’s desk before it has chance to recover. Stiles sees red, arterial and horrendous, sprayed out over the floor of her office before Derek gets him by the collar of his shirt and starts hauling him down the corridor.
There’s a crash behind them and Stiles doesn’t dare look back but there is the sound of galloping feet and it’s going to catch them, it’s—
An ear-splitting noise sends Derek to his knees and Stiles looks back, sees a collapsed shape only a few metres behind them. It’s the size of a polar bear, big shoulders, monkey face.
Its tail is tipped with a clawed hand, just like the ones on its forefeet, and there is blood matted in its fur.
“Stiles! Stiles, come on!”
It’s Lydia, voice still ringing with the power of her scream. She’s grabbing at Derek’s shoulder, trying to get him on his feet, and Stiles grabs for the other. Between them they get him upright and moving, but when Stiles glances back just before they enter the stairwell he sees the creature getting back to its feet as well, and his gut lurches.
They get a floor and a half down before it reaches them, and Stiles pushes Derek down and steps in front. There’s heat building again in his bones but he already knows it’s not going to be fast enough—
* * *
It has Derek.
"Stiles? Stiles, talk to me. Stiles!”
Stiles saw it take him.
“Stiles, you’re scaring me.”
It has Tilly, too.
“Should we take him to a hospital?”
“You’re the hunter, you tell me!”
There’s a knife-edge of hurt jammed between his ribs, in the space where he can normally feel the steady pulse of Tilly’s heart. It feels like a pulled muscle, stretched too far, and it’s sharp enough that his breathing is coming in a tight wheeze.
A lot of people have died, in the last few years. Starting with his mom. He saw her daemon go. Some people say that’s the worst part, because the daemon is the soul and sometimes the body stays for a little longer but you know that the person inside isn’t there.
He wishes that they’d fucked, that awkward time in his dorm room when they shared the bed, even if Josh was still in the room.
“Stiles,” says Lydia again, and this time Stiles hears her. “Stiles, we’ve got four hours until the next murder. Wake up.”
“I’m here,” he says, and then stops, any further words stuck in his throat. His chest tightens again and he clenches his hands because fuck, fuck, no, not now, please.
“Breathe with me,” Lydia tells him. “Come on. One, two.”
He splutters like he’s dying, in, in, in, and then on the fourth breath he shudders a little and gets some of his control back. “Fuck shitting fuck,” he manages, breathing slowing again. “Fuck.”
“Deaton’s on his way,” says Allison, from where she’s standing behind Lydia – and holy fuck she has her bow out and there’s blood—
“Good,” says Lydia. “Stiles, come on, we’ve got to go, like, right now.”
“I need to get something from Hardy’s office,” says Stiles, shaking his head.
“What the fuck is so important in there that we need to go back?”
“There’s some stuff there – mountain ash, maybe her spell notes, and this, this thing that she made for me, I mean, I don’t know how it works but I can learn, right?”
Her body’s in there too, but he tries very carefully not to think about that. She burned Tilly’s favour for a reason, and she said battery and he doesn’t know how that works but he can learn.
It has Derek. It has Tilly.
“All right,” says Lydia. “But quick, okay? I’ll come with.”
The daemon has taken Derek and Tilly, but Stiles still has his magic.
* * *
Hardy’s body is gone. There’s a bloody smear across the dirty blue carpet, nothing else. Stiles stands in the doorway, hand clenched tight around the frame. He can’t look away from the blood.
“Stiles,” hisses Lydia, from behind him. “Before it comes back would be nice!”
He goes in, picks up the glass jar from Hardy’s desk. The golden light spins inside, the spark and glitter of its form a galactic swirl that glows bright through the glass that contains it. It’s warm to the touch.
The pain in his chest eases a little, and he knows. The light, that’s Tilly. The feather burned but it’s still Tilly. He can feel it, her, cupped in the circle of his fingers around the jar. “Hardy was into some messed-up shit,” he says, quiet.
“What?” says Lydia, but Stiles knows her too well to think that she hasn’t figured out what the light is. Sagacitas is staring at the jar in Stiles’ hand, and Stiles feels dirty.
Allison calls them from down the hallway and they go. Stiles puts the jar in the pocket of his hoody, where it weighs him down with more than just its physical mass.
“Nice scream,” he tells Lydia, as they near the stairwell.
“I could do better,” she says. “So. Hardy uses daemons as magic batteries?”
“Yup,” says Stiles. “She didn’t seem to think there was anything wrong with it, so I figured, uh. I dunno.”
“Doesn’t strike me as something Deaton would do,” says Lydia.
“Yeah, well, I didn’t have many options,” says Stiles. “And now it has Derek and Tilly, which. Just great, really. Perfect.”
“It’s amazing you’re even able to talk or move around,” says Lydia, and wow, she never changes. “Most people who have been recently separated are in comas for weeks afterwards.”
The way she says it, so casually. Separated. Like it’s not the nightmare that it is. Like Stiles isn’t thinking about the pain his chest and feeling sick over the idea that maybe that’s why he’s hurting. “It’s not,” he begins, then stops, throat working. “No. We’re not. We’re okay.”
“You’re hurting,” says Lydia.
“She’s a bird, okay?” says Stiles. “It’s – different, for us.”
Lydia cocks her head, purses her lips. “I thought that was just a fairy tale.”
“Yeah, well, werewolves. So. Yeah. My mom was the same.”
“Maybe it’s a witchy thing,” says Lydia.
Stiles shrugs. “Maybe we’ve got more important things to worry about.”
“Derek’s a big boy,” she says. “We’ve got time. Besides, this isn’t the place where Derek dies.”
Stiles’ gut clenches. “What the fuck did you just say?”
“It’s not exact,” she says, biting her lip. “But sometimes, I know when people are going to die. Like with the library, in – four hours, now. But longer. Much longer.”
“When am I going to die?” asks Stiles.
Lydia’s mouth twists. “I don’t know. But it’s not now. I know that much.”
“You’re lying,” says Stiles. “You do know.”
Lydia shakes her head, stays quiet. They head down the stairs to where Allison is waiting for them in silence.
* * *
They don’t know what else to do, so they go back to Stiles’ dorm room and line the walls with mountain ash while they wait for Deaton to arrive. The seal settles over them like a bell jar, muffles the panic that’s been thrumming in Stiles’ chest ever since the window broke in Hardy’s office. If he’s honest, he’s been panicked ever since he left Beacon Hills. Waiting for something to happen, and now that it has he’s useless and his – Derek is going to, and Tilly—
“Maybe you should open the jar,” suggests Allison. “That stuff looks pretty funky, I mean. Maybe you should let it go?”
“It’s made from Tilly,” says Lydia, and Stiles’ face heats under the combined weight of their sympathy.
“Hardy made it,” he says. “It’s got to be important. She was going to use it for a locator spell.”
“To find the daemon?” asks Allison.
“The child,” says Lydia. “But I’m inclined to think that they’re separated. The daemon came in through a third floor window. Even if the kid was waiting on the ground directly outside that’s too far for a normal daemon-human bond.”
Allison pulls a face. “Who would separate a child?”
Roc lays his head on her knee and growls quietly, and Stiles misses Tilly so much that he can’t even speak.
* * *
“This wasn’t a locator spell,” says Deaton, when they meet him in the car park. His fingers are cool against Stiles’ neck when he lifts his hand up to touch where Hardy had painted over Stiles’ tattoos. “Mountain ash negates, Stiles. You know that. Why did you let her paint over your tattoos?”
Stiles pulls back, looks away. “I didn’t know what else to do, all right?”
“Ash for endings, Stiles,” says Deaton, touching Stiles’ neck again, rubbing gently with a thumb. “Sealing and breaking. It’s passive. Here.” He rubs a little harder, then pulls his hand away. Mountain ash is smeared dark on his fingers, and he rubs them against his thumb to brush it away. Stiles watches, feels warmth creep through his belly as they ash curls away into the air.
“Then what is a locator spell?” asks Lydia.
“Wolfsbane,” says Deaton, not looking away from Stiles. “I didn’t make you get those tattoos on a whim, Stiles. I should’ve come sooner. I should’ve taught you more.”
"It’s a bit late for stuff like that,” says Stiles. “Can you just get to the point?”
“The ink in your tattoos was infused with wolfsbane, to make them active,” says Deaton. “Location is an active thing, not a passive one. Touch the right tattoo, and think of who you need to find. Real magic is all about belief, Stiles.”
Stile’s tattoos were an entwined mass of delicate lines that went from the right side of his throat down across his collarbone onto the left side of his chest. Different symbols wound by fine sprigs of purple blooms – wolfsbane linking the piece together. He reaches up to the most defined wolfsbane flower, presses his fingertips to where they bloom in the shadow of his jawline. The warmth in his gut snaps and throbs, and he jerks his hand away.
“We should go inside,” says Deaton.
“No. We have to go to the library,” says Lydia. “There’s not much time left.”
“Until what?” asks Deaton.
“The next killing is going to happen there. We’ve run out of time for looking. We’re going to have to wait for it to come to us, or we’re gonna be letting someone die while we run around like idiots.” Lydia’s lips press into a firm line when she’s finished.
“Derek is gonna die if we wait for it,” says Stiles. “It has my daemon. It has Tilly!”
“You’d feel it if something happened to her,” says Deaton.
“Gee, thanks. That makes me feel so much better.”
“Guys, cut it out.” Allison grips Stiles by the shoulder, squeezes. “We should split up. Stiles and Deaton can find Derek and the daemon’s kid, and me and Lydia can stake out the library.”
“Lydia should go with Stiles,” says Deaton. “I’ll go with you, Allison. It’s a better match both ways.”
“How is it?” snaps Lydia.
“One witch each, and the protection of a banshee should the daemon return before you’ve found Derek,” says Deaton. “Go, quickly!”
“But I don’t know how,” says Stiles. “I don’t know how to believe!”
“You’ve done it before,” says Deaton.
“I know, I just – I don’t know how to do this, I don’t—”
“There’s no time,” says Lydia. “Whatever we’re doing, we have to do it now.”
“Allison, with me,” says Deaton.
Allison raises an eyebrow at him. “Sure thing, hot shot. All my stuff is in Stiles’ room.”
“Meet me there, then,” says Deaton, turning away from them and walking away just like that. Allison swears and bolts for Stiles’ dorm, grabbing the keys he lobs at her as she passes.
“Guess it’s up to the dream team,” says Stiles, weakly. “Go us.”
* * *
Lydia sits him down on the sidewalk just around the corner from his dorm, puts herself down beside him. Their sides press together, warm in the evening chill. The sky out west has a thick band of green across it in that space where day is sliding into night.
“Can you do it?”
“I don’t know,” he replies, honest. “Everybody keeps asking, and – I don’t know. I guess it makes me the whiny white boy reluctant hero to say this, but, well. I didn’t ask for this, you know? I didn’t ask to be all – witchified, or whatever.”
“Somebody is going to die, Stiles,” says Lydia.
“I know! Geez, could everybody just – stop? I know that. I know. I know I’m gonna fuck it up, and that somebody else is gonna die, and I could have stopped it if I wasn’t such a little fuckweed.”
“You can’t stop it. I think – I think I get that know. I find death, you know? I don’t see survival. That’s not how my jig works.”
“You’re not really helping, you know.”
“You can’t stop it, Stiles, but – I think you can control who it is. If we play our cards right, we could make that death outside the library be the daemon’s.”
“Fuck – that’s still a kid! I’m not—”
“I just don’t see what else we can do,” she snaps. She closes her eyes, slumps back. “You’re right, that was. That was fucked up. God.”
“There’s just – there’s no way out of this,” says Stiles. “Situation is FUBAR.”
“Situation has been FUBAR for a pretty long time,” says Lydia.
Lydia sighs. “Stiles,” she says, resting a hand on his closest knee, “Whatever you do tonight, it’s okay. Just so you know. It’s not your fault if things go wrong.”
“When,” he replies. “There’s no way out of this one.”
“That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try,” says Lydia. “So. Wolfsbane.”
* * *
There’s wolfsbane in Stiles’ tattoo, tucked beneath his skin. He feels the thrum of its energy as he turns his attention inwards, feels it grow warm in his blood, metallic in his mouth.
If he doesn’t do this, someone is going to die.
* * *
"Ez te hezdikhem , Genim. My little one.”
A gentle hand cups the top of his head, guides him to look out into the trees. He’s small, fingers curled into the end of a jacket worn thin by the years. It smells like his dad, but his mom is wearing it. She has a wrap on over her head and the skin beneath her eyes is bruised. He likes to kiss it better, like the way she does with when he falls and skins his knees, only his mom actually makes the scrapes go away and he can’t do the same for her.
“Do you know what fire does, Genim?”
“It is! But fire is more than that. Fire is life. It changes everything, and opens up possibilities where there are none. But fire isn’t easy to make.”
“Not like cookies?”
“No, not like cookies. Listen close, Genim. I’m going to tell you a secret.”
She kneels in front of him and he pats her cheek, fingers catching on a flake of mascara. She takes his hands very gently and holds them in hers, and she kisses his forehead, his nose, his eyes.
“Fire takes a little spark, Genim, and sometimes – sometimes that spark is people. You’re my little spark, Genim. Ez te hezdikhem.”
* * *
Maybe Stiles can’t do it, but his mom could, even if his memories of her magic are vague and washed-out by years of disbelief. He remembers an autumn leaf gone green again in her hand, a weekend where she took him down into the dark and they walked hand in hand away from their daemons until something snapped free and a weight he hadn’t known he carried lifted from him. He remembers Cudî, his long white wings and the sleek dark of his eyes.
These things aren’t dreams. They happened, and he knows that now. He knows why Tilly can be so far from him.
Stiles is a witch, and he is perhaps understanding that for the very first time.
“My mom would want me to do it,” he whispers, into the space between him and Lydia, and the heat beneath his skin becomes a flame.
Becomes a spark.
“It’s okay,” says Stiles, because Lydia sounds afraid. “I got this.”
He lifts a hand and light leaps from his fingertips. He curls it into a fist and it cuts out into darkness. He feels taut.
Derek. I need to find Derek. Mouths catching in the dark, heat on his skin, slick on his belly and vice on his cock. Things that haven’t happened yet, but things Stiles wants. Things he believes in.
He stands. There’s a tug he can feel in every part of him, and it’s calling him towards it. Derek and Tilly and Avius and victory against this monster that dares to encroach on the things that Stiles believes in.
He walks out into the dark.
* * *
Derek is belly-down in mud, caked in it, mouth twisted in distaste. It’s dark, and it smells like rot. He thinks of the root cellar that Jennifer used and he gags a little.
“Hey, are you all right?”
“What does it look like?” he spits, wriggling around to see who is speaking. It’s a woman, he thinks. His eyes won’t focus right, and his nose isn’t working. He growls.
“Just being polite.”
“What’s politeness when we’re going to die,” he says.
“Wow. You’re a charmer.”
“Not for a while,” he says, thinks of Kate, of Jennifer, of Paige.
He snorts, and it comes out sounding painful. “You have no idea.”
“Derek,” he says, because if he’s going to die here he doesn’t want to be alone. “How much do you know about what’s happening?”
“Crazy fucks,” replies Frankie. “What more is there to know?”
“That’s part of it, but there’s a lot more,” says Derek. He could die tonight. This girl could die tonight. “I’m not going down without a fight when that thing comes back.”
“Me neither,” says Frankie. “I’m a black belt.”
“I’m a werewolf,” says Derek. “And I don’t care if you think I’m lying, but I’m going to fight that thing when it gets back, and if there’s an opening – you run, okay? You run like hell.”
“I saw that thing, and it wasn’t any creature I’ve ever heard of,” says Frankie. “But that doesn’t mean I’ll run and leave you here to get killed. Chivalry is a load of shit.”
“I’m just trying to help,” says Derek.
“Maybe you should try to make that more of a collaborative effort. Teamwork works wonders, you know.”
* * *
Allison’s quiver is empty and there’s an ache deep in her shoulder, but nobody’s died and she’s got plenty of get up and go left in her yet. She flips a knife in her hand, twists it into the proper grip with the handle gripped horizontally in her fist, blade pointing out at the side opposite to her thumb. She sets her stance and tenses her shoulders, ready to fight.
* * *
Stiles and Lydia are out by the lake, not far from where the first girl was found, and the tug is only getting stronger. Night is coming in fast but Stiles’ steps are unerring and fast, and Lydia has to half-run to keep up with him.
“Stiles – Stiles, slow down!”
“How much time do we have?”
“Half an hour,” she says, after a moment.
“Then I’m not slowing down.”
* * *
“Steady, Allison,” says Deaton, as the creature comes around for a second try.
“I’ve got this,” she replies. “Have you?”
It comes for them. There is no more talk.
* * *
“Stiles,” hisses Lydia, and it’s urgent enough that he does, finally, stop. “Stiles, we have to go back.”
“We can’t – Derek is out there, and what if there are other victims? And the daemon’s kid? We can stop this—”
“More people are going to die,” says Lydia. “I can feel it.”
“I don’t know how this works. I don’t know why I didn’t feel it earlier, or why I’m feeling it now, I just. It’s Allison.”
“And what exactly are we supposed to do to help?”
“It’s Allison,” says Lydia. “I can’t.”
Stiles swears. “Okay. Okay. So, what do we do?”
“I’ll go back to the library,” says Lydia.
“I’m not letting you go alone.”
“Fuck you, I can take care of myself,” she says, eyes narrowing. “Are you going to be all right, if I go?”
“No,” says Stiles, because if he lies Lydia will know anyway. “ But we’ve come this far, right?”
“Right.” She offers him a watery smile, before turning and running back in the direction of the main campus.
Stiles stands ankle-deep in grasses, the soles of his shoes tacky with mud and one of his closest friends running headlong into danger, and he isn’t panicking. He has it under control.
There’s a tug in his gut that leaves him gasping, and when he gets his breath back it’s all he can do to stumble after it through the dark.
* * *
Lydia doesn’t run in public. She cultivates her plethora of skills in private, hones them to a knifepoint of competence that she keeps neatly concealed. Lydia doesn’t run in public, but she is right now, cutting a straight line across the roads that lead into the heart of campus, leaping the kerb onto every sidewalk with her stride long and steady.
She has to stop when she’s felled by a pain that drives down through the top of her skull right down to her knees, leaving her pitched up against a parked car. Her carefully monitored breaths judder into pants, but just as suddenly as it had come, it fades.
“Where’s the fire,” says Sagacitas, as he catches up. “Wait. There’s no fire. There’s just a daemon gone mad and we happen to be running right into its path.”
“Allison’s out there,” says Lydia.
“Allison is a hunter,” says Sagacitas. “She can take care of herself.”
“Then why does it feel like more people are going to die?” snaps Lydia. “People are going to die outside the library, okay, and Allison is outside the library.” She starts off again, a shade slower so that Sagacitas can keep up.
“I still don’t think this is the smartest thing we can do.”
“There isn’t a smart way to do this,” she says. “There’s a rogue daemon and we don’t know where its human is. Stiles might be able to find its human, but not if the daemon beats him back. There’s no ‘smart’ way. There’s only the way, and that’s keeping the daemon here and out of Stiles’ way for as long as possible.”
A terrible sound splits the air in front of them and Lydia swears and clenches her hands so tightly that her nails dig into her palms. Tethered to her daemon as she is, she can’t run any faster. Allison could die and she’s going to hear it happen and not be able to do anything about it.
She stopped the daemon once before, though. She could try again, but that would mean stopping and then if it didn’t work Allison’s death would be her fault for trying something crazy. Lydia doesn’t know how her powers work, and in that moment she feels a bit sick about that way she had treated Stiles.
“Much smarter,” says Sagacitas, when she stops. “Remember your breathing, Lydia.”
She smoothes out the movement of her lungs, breathes in deep. A second cry pierces the sky and she tips her head back and joins it with a sound that starts off human and then warps and rings up through the concrete buildings with stunning force, sending Sagacitas flinching back and setting the glass trembling in nearby windows.
Her scream trails off and she strains her ears trying to listen, but there’s only silence coming from the library.
* * *
There’s a hatch set into the bank of the lake, and Stiles stands staring at it, ankle-deep in mud. It’s getting cold faster than he remembers it ever doing before, and he stuffs his hands into the pockets of his hoodie. The hatch is held shut by a length of twisted metal. Stiles eyes it for a long time before daring to reach out and lift it.
“I wouldn’t do that,” says Alicia Hardy.
* * *
“A-plus, wolf boy,” says Frankie.
Derek would growl at her, but he spent the last twenty minutes wriggling around into a sitting position after finding his hands and feet tied with something that burned him when he struggled too hard. “I’m sitting, aren’t I,” he grumbles.
“You can totally think of that as taking action, if it helps you sleep at night,” says Frankie. “You know, you don’t look like a werewolf.”
“Not everything’s about Twilight.”
“I was thinking more Teen Wolf,” she replies. “You don’t look like MJ Fox, but you have the whole letterman-jacket thing going on.”
“It’s black leather,” says Derek, plaintive. “What part of that is letterman?”
“I bet you were a wholesome little mama’s boy,” she teases.
“—I was,” says Derek, awkward. He doesn’t know why he says it, but it just – slips out. He tries to change the topic. “Would it please you if I said I do actually know a werewolf called Scott?”
“Oh man, that’s just beautiful.”
Thank fuck for small mercies.
“Where’s your daemon?”
Avius forms without a thought, and it’s only then that Derek realises that if Frankie is human, she shouldn’t be able to see well enough to ask that question. He growls, twists in his bonds, but they don’t budge—
“Whoa, cool it, I’m totally not a part of this,” says Frankie. “I’m rumbled, right? Yeah. Fuck. Okay.”
“You don’t smell like a wolf,” he says.
“Yeah, well, if I’m right then your nose should be pretty fucked up right now,” she replies. “But you can put your hackles down. I’m not a wolf. I’m a witch.”
He growls again.
“A baby witch! A little nipper. No, really, I’m a terrible witch, I just have the potential for it and a little rough magic. You’ve got no problem with me, I promise. I’m just as fucked by this as you are, dude.”
There’s a shout somewhere above them, a sharp flare of light that outlines a blocked doorway for a brief half-second. Derek blinks away the dots in his vision and curls his lip back over his teeth.
“Diggety dangerang,” says Frankie. “Time’s up, wolfy.”
The door bursts open and light floods in.
* * *
“You’re not dead,” says Stiles, hand still on the metal bar. He swallows, throat bobbing. “So, uh. How’s that work?”
“Oh, please, as if I’m gonna tell you,” says Hardy. “If just anyone could come back from the dead then it wouldn’t be fun.”
“I actually, uh, know someone who did a bit of resurrecting,” says Stiles.
Hardy raises an eyebrow. “Some crowd that you’re running with, kid. You’re gonna get yourself killed.”
"Depends on what you’re gonna do to me,” says Stiles.
“Seriously? I’m not the bad guy, Stiles. I’m here to help.”
“Then why did you tell me not to open this door when Derek is inside?”
“You think he’s inside, you mean. You don’t exactly have the best control of your magic, do you?”
“He’s inside,” says Stiles. The tug in his chest hasn’t lessened. He knows, just as he knew that the mountain ash circle had sealed itself because of him back at the rave. “What’s with you? He’s my – Derek. I gotta get him out, and if you’re not the bad guy then why don’t you want me to?”
“It’s really not you guys I want to mess with,” says Hardy. “I just need – a bit of a boost.”
“A bit of a – ”
“Oh, shut up,” snaps Hardy. “Get away from the door, Stiles.”
The jar in Stiles’ pocket feels heavier than it did. A bit of a boost.
“What do you want with Derek’s daemon?”
“I don’t want anything,” she says. “Stiles, please. Get out of the way.”
“You’re gonna use Avius, aren’t you? What do you want her for?”
“I’m not moving,” he says, squaring his shoulders. “So you’d better tell me.”
“That daemon’s gonna come back and kill us both if you keep delaying,” says Hardy.
“It’s gonna kill Derek if I do what you’re trying to make me.”
Hardy swears and drags a hand back through her hair. She lets out a frustrated breath. “Stiles, come on. I’m trying to help.”
“Why can’t you just tell me what you’re gonna do, if you mean so well?”
“You can’t open the door because there’s a witch in there, okay?”
Stiles tenses. “What?”
“She’s a lot older than she looks,” says Hardy. “I finally got her trapped in there, but then the daemon got your wolf in there with her to try and get me to break the seal so that she can get out. Bait.”
“If she’s older, then why can her daemon still change forms?” asks Stiles. “You’re not making any sense, lady. And if the daemon got Derek in there, he can come out without her going free. If she even deserves to be in there, which I doubt.” His grip on the metal bar tightens, and he begins to lift it.
The world whites out.
* * *
There’s a dead girl lying just outside the library, and the desk attendants are gathered around her crying. She has dark curly hair, and Lydia walks towards her with ringing ears and sick in her mouth.
“Lydia? Where’s Stiles?”
Lydia turns, and Allison is standing only a few metres away at Deaton’s side, a knife in her hand and blood on her face and in her hair. She’s alive, though, and Lydia can’t speak.
Lydia goes to her, slow and halting, and pulls her into a crushing hug. “I thought you were dead,” she manages. “Allison, I thought you were dead.”
“No, no, I’m okay, I’m right here—”
Some people might have asked her out, but Lydia thinks she’s pretty justified when she just goes straight for the kiss.
* * *
The light fades, and Derek blinks rapidly, teeth already fangs and hair bristling along his jawline. Avius hums in his bones, in his heart, and he roars up at the square of night sky that’s opened up above them.
There’s a clatter of black and white in the corner of his vision, and he twists around to see Stiles’ daemon, flopping helplessly around in a dark corner, wings weighted down by a net. His roar dies off and he narrows his eyes. If Stiles is here, then—
“Alicia! I knew you’d come to your senses,” calls Frankie.
“What the fuck,” says Derek.
* * *
“—Not exactly a smart move, though, locking me in with a werewolf.”
“Can you really blame me for hoping he’d eat you,” snaps Hardy.
Stiles is on his back, mud tacky on the cheek he has pressed to the ground. He doesn’t know how he got there, but he does know that his air is coming in stricken whistles and his right hand is trapped in a rictus of agony.
The tug has eased, though, and there’s something warm in his belly. Tilly.
“I mean, I know you’re all about using my own tricks against me, but you really just locked me in with an alpha-shaped battery.”
“You sure about that?”
“What – oh, clever. I still have more juice than you, though. Tough luck, kiddo.”
Stiles flops over onto his belly and slowly gets his knees under him. Hardy is gone from sight but her voice is coming from inside the open hatch, and Stiles drags himself over to it. When he peers in he can see her squaring off against a small woman who is tied at the wrists to a metal pipe. In the other corner of the tiny room is Derek, and Stiles stares at him, and stares.
“Really, Alicia, I don’t know what your problem is. I took care of your problem for you! This is a very poor thank you.”
“Nimi was never a problem,” snaps Hardy. “Who gave you the right?”
“Your parents, for one.”
Hardy punches her.
“Fuck you,” she snarls. “Fuck you fuck you fuck you.”
“I helped you, Alicia,” says the girl, and even in the dim light Stiles can see her lip is split. “What would people have said when he settled? You would never have been able to make a life for yourself. I helped you.”
“Nimi was mine and you took him away,” says Hardy. “You ruined him.”
“And yet here you are, good enough at magic that you’re ready to use a werewolf’s daemon as a power source to kill me. I made you great.”
She lied. Stiles isn’t surprised, but it still makes him feel sick. He has to get Derek out before things turn ugly, he has to—
Hardy stretches a hand out towards Derek, and there’s a moment where nothing happens but then there’s a fine trail of golden light uncoiling from the shadows around Derek, and Derek begins to scream.
Stiles reaches into his pocket and opens the jar.
* * *
It’s the heat that gets to Stiles. The light unwinds from inside the jar and leaps up along his arm, leaving prickles along his skin wherever it touches. The feeling it leaves is one he knows, from when Derek startled him, from mountain ash, from moments in his childhood when his mom kissed away his bruises or bloomed a flower with a touch (or that one time a dog without a collar or leash went for Stiles and she looked at it and the dog was just gone, unwritten).
This heat is aware, though. It’s Tilly, or at least a shadow of her, and he can feel it asking him what he wants to do.
There’s a savage pain in his shoulder, and the heat stutters back before lashing out. Stiles’ head clears to find the girl who had been tied up staggering backwards, golden light leaving whorls in the air behind her.
“You don’t know what you’re messing with,” she snarls, righting herself. “This is between me and Alicia.”
“It’s not when you start murdering people,” says Stiles, voice shaky. He’s not one hundred percent but what else is he supposed to think.
“Not anyone you know.”
“Then what the fuck were you doing to Derek?”
“I was defending myself,” she says.
The pain in Stiles’ shoulder isn’t easing up, but he doesn’t dare look away from her.
“What’s going on?” he demands. “Hardy, you, the daemon – what’s this all about?”
“She’s trying to murder me,” says the girl, jabbing an accusing finger to Stiles’ left, where Hardy is presumably standing. “Excuse me for retaliating.”
“Derek isn’t – he isn’t a battery pack, or a weapon,” says Stiles. “Shut – shut the fuck up!”
“I wasn’t going to kill him,” she says.
“Yeah, that makes me feel so much better.”
“Stiles, move out the way.”
Hardy is up by his shoulder, trying to push past him with her presence alone. Stiles pushes back, physically. He clenches his hands into fists, and there’s a flare of light that has Hardy backing off. “No,” he says. “Nobody is killing anyone. Capiche?”
“You have no fucking idea what you’re dealing with, kid,” says Hardy. “Step out of this before you get hurt.”
“Not until she lets Derek go.”
“She’ll kill me if I do,” says the girl.
“Then I guess we’re stuck.”
It’s then, with a thunderous roar, that the rogue daemon makes an appearance.
* * *
“Stiles is in danger,” says Lydia, only seconds after she pulls away from Allison. “Oh, god. Oh fuck.”
“He must have found Derek,” says Lydia.
“The daemon,” says Deaton.
* * *
Stiles turns, hands coming up over his face as the daemon descends on them, but it’s twisting on one long, grotesque foot, shoving roughly past him. He commits taboo with a nightmare daemon for only half a breath but it’s enough to have him reeling backwards, gagging, golden light trailing and sparking from his fingertips. The daemon surges towards the girl, and she punches her hands towards it with a strangled yell. A thread of light lances out from Derek’s shadow – from Avius – and slams into the space between her and the daemon, stopping it in its tracks with an infuriated bellow.
“You fucking bitch!” she shouts, pulling more of Avius away from Derek, directing it towards the daemon to keep it at bay. “I helped you!”
“You did this!” Hardy counters, stepping closer. “Look at him! Look!”
“That’s your daemon,” says Stiles, stepping backwards, away from her. “The beetle – the beetle was a fake, wasn’t it?”
“Illusions are pretty easy, when you have the juice that I do,” says Hardy.
“And where’s that coming from? Are you using people’s daemons? Is that what you were doing with Tilly? I wasn’t going to use that, was I – that was for you.”
“I’m only doing it to stop her,” says Hardy.
“What the fuck did she do?” shouts Stiles.
“Intercision,” says Tilly.
Stiles’ breath stalls in his throat as Tilly lights on his shoulder, and the wound in his chest eases. He still feels – stretched, but it’s the pull of an injured muscle rather than a severed limb. “Tilly,” he says, just needing the sound of her in his mouth.
“She severed Hardy’s bond to her daemon,” she says again, quiet. “I can see the wounds. They’re – leaking.”
“Their energy, the soul that they share – the link is cut, and it’s bleeding,” she says. “Hardy's daemon spent too much time as a myth, and her parents found a witch who promised them that all their troubles would be over with just the quick sharp flash of a knife."
“Okay,” he says. “What do we do?”
“I don’t know.”
* * *
Lydia’s falling behind, because she’s trained in secret like she does with everything but Allison is a hunter to her bones and Deaton is some kind of super ninja wizard genius and Lydia is in a skirt okay and it’s dark and she’s cold. Her chest is hurting but she ducks her head and presses on, Sagacitas lumbering along beside her. Up ahead Allison and Roc are dark, sleek shapes, their strides long and easy. Lydia’s throat tightens.
She wants Allison. Wants. Not the slide of bodies, the clutch of mouth on nipple, the bite of teeth on hipbone. She wants that, sure. But she wants Allison, and they’re running headlong towards a nightmare.
Lydia doesn’t want to lose her before she even gets a chance, because three years isn’t enough for what Allison means to her. Friend, lover, anything, but Lydia doesn’t want to see Allison die young.
There’s a desperate cry from up ahead, and Allison breaks into a sprint that leaves Lydia running alone in the dark, guided only by the wrenching nausea that tells her that tonight isn’t over.
Someone else is going to die, and Lydia is too scared to think about who it’s going to be. She knows, though. She does.
There’s a snarl-bark that sets Lydia’s teeth on edge, and a shout from Deaton. Lydia redoubles her pace, stumbling a little as her legs get weak, and she reaches them just in time to see the daemon rear up out of a hatch set into the bank of the lake, its form twisting and changing. Roc is at its throat, teeth buried deep in flesh that changes around and under his fangs even as he keeps biting.
Stiles is on the floor, and there’s blood—
The daemon is looking right at her, and it’s like it knows. It can scent the death on her skin, in her blood, and it knows. There are two people on the lake bank who know for certain that someone is going to die, and the daemon is one of them.
There’s that terrible swelling in her chest again, and Lydia screams. The daemon flinches back and Roc adjust his grip, blood slicking down the sides of his muzzle and over his chest. The daemon roars and swats him aside, and he hits the ground and lies still. To Lydia’s right, Allison drops the ground without a sound.
Lydia screams again but the daemon is standing, and it’s coming towards her—
* * *
Stiles is knocked flat when the daemon wheels away from the girl and rears up to meet – Roc, that’s Roc leaping up to rip into its throat, and that’s Allison running out of the trees and Deaton at her side. Stiles watches them, vision blurred, as Lydia joins them too and Roc is sent flying. His stomach twists and he’s standing even though he doesn’t think he had the strength, and he thinks, fire. Fire is what Alicia used to burn the feathers. Fire can harm a daemon.
But fire can hurt everyone else here too (Derek, Derek and fire, no), so he hesitates. This is still a daemon, and he knows of Intercision, knows what it means. He can guess the rest from the state the daemon is in – clearly taken from Hardy while she was still very young, unable to settle without a human link. Warped into a monster.
“Do you know what fire does, Genim?”
“It is! But fire is more than that. Fire is life. It changes everything, and opens up possibilities where there are none. But fire isn’t easy to make.”
Maybe fire is the answer, and Stiles – there isn’t any time. It’s going to Lydia, and he sees it in her face.
She thinks she’s going to die.
* * *
Golden light flares orange, leaps from Stiles’ fingers to latch onto the daemon’s matted fur. It glows there for a long moment, a dull red, before it brightens and licks up along the fibres towards the skin. The daemon screams, stumbling away from Lydia, eyes mad and searching. Stiles starts to back away but it sees him and lunges, and when Stiles brings his hands up to shield himself he’s out of golden light and there’s no way he’s going to get out of the way in time.
He screws his eyes shut and then there’s a roar – one he knows. He’s hit but it’s a broad, warm contact, and he opens his eyes to see Derek pressed along his front, shoulders curled as he bares his fangs at the daemon.
Faint streams of light leap away from the daemon and latch onto Hardy’s fingertips, and her face twists with effort as she visibly directs the daemon around, towards the girl. “You should never have fucked with me,” she spits, as the daemon grows larger, larger, claws and teeth and spines. A walking nightmare.
“There are others here,” shouts the girl. “Are we going to drain the entire west coast before you’re satisfied?”
“—Stiles, what did that light come out of? A jar?”
Derek’s speaking to him. It takes Stiles a moment to notice, and another to realise what he’s saying. “Yeah. Hardy made it.”
“D’you think you can put that light in it?”
Stiles is a piss-poor witch, but. “I can,” he says. He has to.
“Do it,” says Derek, before hurling himself at the girl.
“No!” shouts Hardy, directing the daemon towards them as Derek hits her and they tumble over, down through the hatch and back into the underground chamber. “No – she’s mine!”
The daemon topples into the hole on top of Derek and the girl but Hardy stays on the edge next to Stiles, the threads of light gone bright with tautness, so much so that Stiles resists the urge to shield his eyes. He hears a shout from Derek, sees a flare of light below that means that the girl has started to leach from Avius again, and he looks at the threads stretched out less than a metre away from him. Hardy isn’t looking his way. She’s too busy concentrating on the daemon.
Stiles lifts up the jar and points it at her. Nothing happens, and Hardy notices him, curses. “Fuck off!” she shouts. “Just let me kill her and get this over with!”
“Not when Derek’s down there,” he says, voice as steady as he can make it. “You’re going to get him killed. Call off the daemon, or I’ll drain it.”
“Then Frankie will kill us all,” she says, her eyes gone wide and crazed. “Derek will die gutted like a pig and so will you!”
“I’ll drain you both,” says Stiles. A tremor enters his voice. “I’ll drain both your daemons. I’ll trap them in here.”
“You don’t know how,” she says. “You aren’t nearly as powerful as Deaton said you were.”
Fire isn’t easy to make.
Fire takes a little spark.
You’re my little spark, Genim.
“I am,” says Stiles, and he means it like he never has before. “I’m the spark,” he says.
There’s that heat in his belly, the one he’s starting to learn. It jolts down his arms and to his hands, and there’s a flare that builds in the space between his fingers that makes his hands flex involuntarily around the jar. There’s a hiss and a crackle and then the sleeves of Stiles’ hoodie are lit up with fire, and he bites into his own tongue enough to taste blood as it sears the skin beneath.
“What the fuck are you doing,” says Hardy – but she sounds scared.
“Fire changes everything,” says Stiles.
It grows larger and leaps away from Stiles. It hits the threads and it doesn’t break them, instead travels along them, chasing them down to the daemon.
The daemon squeals as it lights up, and Hardy collapses to the ground, convulsing. Stiles’ eyes are streaming and blurred but he can see the daemon shedding golden light in great flakes, almost as if its very skin is peeling away. It writhes, rolling off of Derek and Frankie, showing them still struggling. Stiles, attention fixed on the daemon as the golden light surges back along the threads and jumps into his hands, can only vaguely see Derek as he rolls over and over the floor with Frankie, flares and flashes of light his only clue as to what is happening.
As more and more of the light drains away from the daemon and comes to Stiles, the heat only continues to grow. Hardy’s mouth starts to foam at the corners and the daemon is shrinking, contorting, but Stiles doesn’t know how to stop.
He glances to Derek, as much as he dares, and sees blood, sees Avius lying vulnerable and exposed on the concrete, ears flattened back against her skull. Stiles feels a tug on the threads and looks back at the daemon, and sees – a snake, small and slight. For the first time, the daemon doesn’t look or feel like a nightmare. Stiles feels the roil of all that drained light around his fists and he knows.
He crouches next to Hardy and puts and jar on the floor. He doesn’t pour the light into it, though, and instead puts his left hand on her forehead. It’s only for a moment, but when he lifts his hand away the skin where he has touched is glowing – a fine golden print that gleams even in the half-dark. With his other hand he uses the thread to pull the daemon towards him, lifting it up through the hatch and towards him, until he can finally reach out and take the daemon in his hand. It coils around his wrist, gentle, and lies its head flat in the dip between two of his knuckles. It looks tired.
Stiles holds it and then he puts it down, right over Hardy’s heart, and he doesn’t quite know why except for that he’s nursing a childish, stupid hope.
The daemon glows gold where he touched it, and Stiles opens his hands and lets go of the light, pushes it away from him, shuts down the fire and the heat. It unspools and drifts in the air, uncertain, Stiles staring at it with a dry mouth.
It lashes down and connects to the glowing print on Hardy’s forehead, and then leaps across to the daemon. The rest of the light funnels into that narrow pathway and builds into a blinding whiteness, before shuttering out into nothingness.
Stiles stands up and turns back to the hatch, to where Frankie has Derek pinned. “Let him go,” he says, and though his tone is even his fists are clenched. Tilly flits up to land on his shoulder and mantles her wings.
“I don’t have a daemon for you to burn,” she calls, not looking up at him.
“I didn’t burn Hardy’s daemon,” he says. “I renewed the link.”
She turns, brows a sharp double crease. “That’s not possible.”
“Apparently it is,” says Stiles. “Now get the fuck away from Derek before I burn yours.”
“I don’t have one,” she says.
“Yes, you do,” says Stiles. “You have an arthropod case in your pocket.”
It’s the same size and rough shape as a glasses case, made to keep the smallest daemons safe in combat regions. The bulge of it in Frankie’s jacket is subtle but noticeable if you know where to look, and Stiles saw Hardy’s often enough. Her beetle daemon might have been a fake but the case was genuine-issue, and Stiles had learned what to look for.
“You wouldn’t,” she says, eyes narrowing.
“I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that Hardy won’t drain her daemon now that they’re bonded again,” says Stiles. “She’s no danger to you, and you were only ‘defending yourself’, right? So back off.”
“You’re just gonna let me go,” says Frankie, head cocking incredulously. “Excuse me if I don’t believe that.”
“We’ve let people like you go before,” says Stiles. “Ever hear of Deucalion?”
Frankie’s eyes widen. “You’re the McCall pack,” she says. “Fuck.”
“One more time,” says Stiles. “Back off.”
Still pinned beneath Frankie, Derek growls. Slowly, Frankie pulls away from him and stands. “You’re gonna let me go,” she says, but her tone is uncertain. “I’ll kill you if you chase me.”
“Depends if you’re gonna do any more Intercisions.”
“I was hired by her parents,” says Frankie. “To help her.”
“Isn’t that a shrink’s job?”
“Yeah, well, shrinks used to perform lobotomies,” says Frankie. Her features soften. “I didn’t do it to hurt her. I didn’t know this would happen.”
“You don’t have to play the victim card,” says Stiles. “Just get out of my sight before Hardy wakes up and starts it off all over again.”
Frankie nods and scrambles up out of the hatch. She pauses, looking down at Hardy with some strange emotion in her eyes, before legging it into the trees.
It’s the last time that Stiles ever sees her.
* * *
By the time Allison comes round, Hardy is gone. Derek had growled at her, lips curled back, ready to chase. Stiles stopped him with a sharp look. “If they kill each other, then fuck it,” he says, tired to his bones. “I’m not losing you to one of them. Let them sort their business out between themselves.”
“That’s a change of heart,” says Lydia.
“They don’t have a hostage this time,” says Stiles. “It’s just the two of them – and I don’t think they’ll mess with us again. I think – campus is part of our territory, now.”
“What happened?” asks Allison, sitting up with wobbly slowness. Roc gets to his feet and pads over to her, head hanging. “Roc? Anyone?”
“It’s over,” says Stiles. “They’re gone.”
“What are you guys gonna do? There’s gonna be an investigation. The whole place might shut down.”
“They make enough money out of us that it’ll open up again pretty quickly,” says Stiles, mouth quirking at the corner. “But it might be a good idea to get out of town for a while.”
Derek’s brows crease. “What about your courses?”
“We can submit essays online,” says Stiles. “I don’t mind skipping for a week.”
“Where will you go?”
“Where’d you think?”
“Ah. Well, uh. I bet your dad’ll be pleased to see you.”
Stiles doesn’t quite know what to say to that. He doesn’t know how to just – invite himself into Derek’s home. He thinks that’s a very gentle rejection, but he doesn’t know. He’s not good at this stuff.
“You should both go back to Beacon Hills,” says Deaton. “It’ll be good for you.”
“Lydia, do you mind getting a lift with Derek? I should stay around for a little while and do clean-up,” says Allison.
“I’ve got it,” says Deaton. “You should take Lydia. It’s a long drive back without company.”
“That sounds great,” says Lydia, before Allison can say anything else. She smiles at Stiles and it’s full of teeth.
Stiles looks up at Derek, but Derek’s face is broody. His stomach twists a bit. Great.
* * *
Derek brought his Camaro. He drives it with his body sunk deep into the leather seat and his grip sure on the wheel. Avius is on his lap, and he has one hand spanning the length of her spine. She’s purring, deep and throaty, the engine a richer note behind it. They lost Lydia and Allison a while ago, Derek’s foot growing heavy as they hit more rural landscapes. It’s Derek and Stiles and their daemons in a close, warm space, rushing into a smoky night. The glitter of cat’s eyes in the road stretches out towards the horizon, unimpeded.
“What d’you think will happen to them?” asks Stiles.
“One of them will kill the other,” says Derek, voice hushed. “That’s how revenge works.”
“D’you think we should have stopped them?”
“We’re not killers,” says Derek. “We let Deucalion go. This is – it’s the only thing we could have done.”
Derek pulls up outside of Stiles’ house hours later, when the dark is washed-out with a lavender that is spreading with every passing minute. Stiles makes no move to get out, though, and they sit there as yellow bursts up from the horizon. It’s like every time Stiles fries eggs and splits the yolk by accident, and he stares straight out the windshield as the whole of the eastern sky turns golden. “Would you like to come in,” he says, still looking forwards.
“What about your dad?”
“He’ll go to work soon,” says Stiles.
“Let me at least move my car, okay?”
Stiles chances a look across at him, doesn’t think Derek is lying. “I’ll leave my window open.”
* * *
Stiles wakes up to his childhood bedroom and lies still for a very long time, staring up at the ceiling in the kind of bafflement that only sleep can bring.
There’s a spark of warmth but he can control it now, knows that voice well enough to hold in the reaction he would otherwise have had. “I didn’t mean to fall asleep on you.”
“It’s no problem. How’s your shoulder?”
“It’s – oh, yeah. It’s okay, actually.” There’s a bandage on Stiles’ shoulder that Stiles doesn’t remember, and when he lifts that and the gauze pad underneath it to have a look under her sees clean skin and an ugly cut. “Did you—?”
“You were pretty out of it,” says Derek. “I know it’s weird, but I didn’t want it to get infected. You’re – human, you know.”
“I know,” says Stiles. He tries to sit up, see where Derek is, and his shoulder throbs. He winces. “Trust me, I know.”
There’s a hand on his back, lifting him up and back to rest on his pillows, and when Stiles glances down at the floor next to his bed he sees Derek’s jacket bunched up there. Derek himself is standing now, hair mussed, cheek creased where it must have—
“Did you sleep on the floor?” says Stiles. “Dude, we could have shared.”
“We could?” says Derek, and both his voice and his eyes are wary.
Stiles goes very still. “I’m not sixteen anymore.”
“You have to say it, Stiles.”
“What if I don’t want to?”
“I think we both want to.”
“Then why don’t you?”
Derek huffs out a laugh and looks away. “I’m not really a talker.”
“Yeah, well, I guess – neither am I.”
Derek pulls a face. “I didn’t know you were badly hurt enough to be delusional.”
“Aw, man, fuck you. Just.” Stiles reaches for Derek’s hand where it’s slid up to rest on his shoulder, holds it up in front of him. With his other hand he reaches for Tilly where she’s perched on his nightstand. He looks up at Derek, waiting.
Derek nods. It’s small, but it’s a nod, so Stiles brings Tilly over to Derek’s waiting hand. He’s never been so conscious of the clutch of her clawed feet, the soft whisper of her feathers on his skin. She looks at him with one piercing dark eye when he brings her right up next to Derek’s hand, and in the space of a breath it’s done. She steps lightly onto Derek’s hand and that’s it. That’s taboo.
It’s not, though. It’s beautiful, and the warmth that’s blooming in Stiles’ gut only grows when Avius leaps up onto his bed and presses her head into the hand that Stiles still has raised.
* * *
They spend most of the week in Stiles’ house, barefoot, gentle touches in the kitchen, on the stairs. Stiles gets Derek’s attention with a hand on his hip. Avius stays in a corporeal form, and when she isn’t on Stiles’ lap she curls up on the floor with Tilly tucked into the space beside her belly.
When it’s dark they gravitate upstairs and lie face-to-face on top of the covers, clothed, just looking. It takes until the last day for that looking to move into touching – just hands under shirts, not quite touching nipples, kisses that nip and leave lips flushed and wet.
“I’ll see you soon,” says Derek, when he goes to leave through the window sometime in the early morning. “You’re not that far away.”
“I’ll leave my window open,” says Stiles.
* * *
When Stiles goes into his first class after getting back to campus, Hardy is standing at the front of the room in her usual place. The glossy beetle is back in her hair, but when Stiles looks more closely he can see the sheen of scales in the shadow of her shirt collar. She nods at him when he takes his seat.
There’s a bruise on her cheekbone, well-concealed but there nonetheless. It’s new.
“Do you guys wanna talk about Fight Club, or d’you want to get lunch,” says Hardy, once the trickle of students dries up. The class is about half full. “Seriously. It’s Fight Club, not Chaucer. Scram.”
“We pay a lot for these classes,” says one guy, and Hardy quells him with an impressive side-eye.
“I wasn’t aware you needed spoon feeding,” says Hardy. “Go on. Take the day off. It won’t kill you. If you really are having trouble just send me an email and I’ll talk to you about it.”
Everyone starts to leave, some looking relieved and others disgruntled. Stiles hovers by his chair, unsure. Hardy catches his eye and waves him over. “About your essay plan,” she says, loud enough for the rest of the class to hear. She waits a moment for everyone to leave. “Last week didn’t happen,” she says.
“No,” says Stiles. “I’m not gonna be threatened, lady. That’s not how this is going.”
“I wasn’t trying to threaten you,” she says.
“I – oh?”
“No, I, uh. I wanted to say thanks. With – my daemon? Thank you, Stiles. If you ever need anything—”
“I’ll let you know, sure,” says Stiles. “Actually, can you tell me one thing?”
He lowers his voice. “Did you – did you kill her?”
“No,” says Hardy, after a long pause.
“So where is she? And – who is she?”
“Francesca Tanner is, officially, a child psychiatrist currently undergoing investigation for the alleged use of Intercision on her patients,” says Hardy, her voice tight. “I didn’t kill her, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to make it happen. Unofficially, she's a witch who stole her Clan leader's sacred blade so she could make quick cash by preying on the fears of parents who didn't know what they were really dealing with.”
“She deserves it,” says Hardy, and it’s almost a snarl. “You should know, though, that I’m not the only one. When I was digging I found thirty-five other kids who were forced to go through Intercisions. Maybe they’ll end up like me and my daemon, maybe they won’t – but you deserve to know in case this comes up again. I get the feeling we’re gonna be cleaning this up for a long time.”
“Call us,” says Stiles. “I mean, I don’t wanna get killed, but if we can help people – if I can do what I did for you, then. I should help.”
“Thanks, Stiles,” says Hardy. “I can see why you’re Scott’s second.”
"I – what? I’m not even a wolf,” says Stiles.
“You can’t be dumb enough to think you’re not pack,” says Hardy.
“So why not second?”
“Everyone listened to you, Stiles. You were the one that ended it. You’re Scott’s best friend, right? Besides, after seeing you in action, I have to say that Scott would have to be crazy not to have you has his second. You’re a good kid, Stilinski.”
“I – thanks,” says Stiles.
“I’ll see you next week,” she says, turning her back on him. "Do something nice this weekend, all right?"
“Okay,” says Stiles, backing out of the room and lifting his bag up over his shoulder. “I will."
“Hey, Tilly,” calls Hardy, as he’s right on the threshold. “You take care of that kid.”
“I will,” says Tilly, from her perch on Stiles’ shoulder.
Stiles hasn’t replaced his phone yet, so he only finds out that Derek’s on his way when he gets back to his dorm and opens up his laptop. He checks his email as part of his pre-Steam routine, and in his autopilot mode nearly misses the new message at the top of his inbox. It’s from Lydia.
Derek’s in town. I’m sending him your way in a few. Don’t forget to be a boy scout! xoxo
The timestamp is half an hour ago, and it only takes five minutes to go from Stiles’ dorm to Lydia’s. Derek should be—
“You left your window open,” says Derek. “Hey – Josh, right?”
“Hey,” squeaks Josh, eyes wide. “Should – should I go out?”
“Yeah, I think so,” says Derek. He sticks a hand in the back pocket of his jeans and comes out with a twenty dollar bill. “Here. Get lunch or something.”
Josh takes the money and leaves, near-vibrating in a way that has Stiles hiding his face behind his laptop screen. “Oh my god,” he says, when the door clicks shut. “Oh my god, you asshole!”
“Hey, I bought him lunch,” says Derek.
“You climbed in through my window and paid him to leave. He’s gonna think you’re, like, my illicit older hunk.”
“Well, not illicit,” says Derek.
“Wow, so modest.”
“You did say I was an asshole.”
Stiles snaps his laptop closed and drops his head back on his pillows. “Asshole,” he says, but it’s affectionate.
The bed dips, first on the left and then on the right as Derek reaches over to plant a hand by Stiles’ shoulder to support his weight. Stiles opens his eyes to see Derek’s face over his own, their breath twining together in the space between them.
“Hey,” says Stiles.
“Hey,” says Derek. “Green light?”
“Green like the Hulk,” says Stiles. “Green like—”
Derek’s mouth comes down over his and then they’re kissing. It’s chaste at first, Derek waiting for Stiles to make the move. He does, opens his mouth a little, sucks at Derek’s top lip until he sighs into Stiles’ mouth and brings the hand that isn’t supporting him up to cup Stiles’ cheek.
“You don’t want me talking about the Hulk in bed, huh,” says Stiles, when they pull apart. “Feeling threatened?”
“I’m pretty secure in my masculinity,” says Derek, biting Stiles’ nose.
"You bit my nose!”
“Did it hurt?”
“I won’t do it again if you don’t want me to,” says Derek, abruptly serious.
“No, it’s okay,” says Stiles. “I was just – weird.” He pinches Derek’s butt to try and change the mood, and is rewarded by a mock-serious expression. “What? I was trying to stop you going all Broody-McBroodster on me.”
“Broody McBroodster, huh? Now that’s just awful,” says Derek. “I’m wounded. Deeply.”
“Deeply,” says Stiles, and giggles.
“It’s times like this that I remember how old you are.”
“Not sixteen,” says Stiles. On an impulse he pushes at Derek’s shoulders until he’s sat up straight and then slides off the bed, kneeling in front of them. His mouth goes dry. “Uh. I didn’t plan quite this far.”
“You don’t have to,” says Derek. “Not everyone likes it.”
“No, I,” but then Stiles looks at the ridge in Derek’s pants and he rocks back a little. “Yeah, no. I don’t think I can.”
“That’s okay,” says Derek. “Come here.”
He guides Stiles back up onto the bed and pushes him back against the pillows. Stiles pulls him into a kiss that leaves them biting, flushed, and Stiles knows that if he can feel his heart beating then it must be deafening to Derek. He want to say it sweetly, but it comes out of his traitorous mouth as, “Wow, you must be able to hear how turned on I am.”
“Yeah,” says Derek, nosing at the side of Stiles’ neck when he groans at his own lack of smoothness. “Me too.”
Derek grabs one of his hands and slides it up under his shirt. Stiles bites his lip at the feel of the warm muscle as he passes it, up to where Derek’s heart is beating a fevered drum against his ribs. “Wow,” he says.
“That’s you,” says Derek.
* * *
They move to lie next to each other, Derek against the wall on his side and Stiles on his back. They’re kissing, slow and first and then more heated, tongues getting involved. Their teeth click once and Stiles feels like he’s going to die, like he’s going to burn up or throw up from the churning in his belly. He gasps into Derek’s mouth and Derek hums, plucks at the hem of Stiles’ shirt until Stiles mutters green into his mouth.
Derek pinches his nipple and Stiles squeaks a little.
“I know, right,” says Derek, and his mouth is curled and laughing. “How far are we taking this?”
“I don’t know,” says Stiles, but his dick is hot and his belly is hot and he thinks that maybe he’s ready. “Green,” he says, eventually.
“All of it,” says Stiles. “Um. Yeah.”
Derek slides his hand down from Stiles’ chest to the waistband of his jeans. “Yeah?”
Stiles’ breath hitches as Derek’s fingers trail over the dip of his hipbone. “Yeah.”
Derek undoes Stiles’ jeans one-handed, or at least it looked like he did for a moment before Stiles actually tried to wiggle out of his jeans and found that Derek had accomplished exactly nothing. “Should I tell Chris that buttons are effective on werewolves,” he says, as he unbuttons them himself.
“I really don’t want to think about Chris Argent right now, Stiles,” groans Derek.
“How about Scott,” says Stiles.
“Why do I like you.”
Stiles hooks his boxers as well as his jeans and pulls them off too. “I wonder,” he says, before he loses his nerve. Then, “Oh, god, it’s cold. Blanket time.” He yanks it out from under Derek and crawls under it, pulling it up over his head. “There is no Stiles. There is only the bed caterpillar.”
“Would the bed caterpillar enjoy mutual loss of clothing,” says Derek, voice admirably even.
“The bed caterpillar would be one hundred per cent behind that,” says Stiles. “Or under that. Either works.”
“Stiles, god—” The blanket rucks up at one side and then Derek’s pressed hot all along his side. There’s a slick heat near Stiles’ hip and fuck, that’s Derek’s cock, that’s—
Stiles rolls towards Derek and pushes up against him, bites his lips and then soothes them. Derek’s hand grips his side and then shifts to his back, pressing them together. Their dicks grind and Stiles hisses out a tight breath.
Derek’s hand bumps Stiles’ dick and he whines. “Yes, yes, fuck—” He turns his head so their mouths slot together as Derek curls his fingers around Stiles’ dick, making a tunnel for him to fuck into. Derek slides his tongue into Stiles’ mouth and fucks it, the push and pull so explicitly suggestive that Stiles flushes hot. “I have – stuff,” he says, into Derek’s lips.
“Stuff,” says Stiles, and god, he’s—
“And where is this stuff?” asks Derek.
Stiles rolls away, biting his lip at the long slid of his dick in Derek’s hands. He sticks his hand down the side of his bed and then under, coming back out with a small bottle of KY. “Here, fuck, fuck,” he says, reaching back for Derek’s mouth. “Can I touch you,” he says, hand shy on Derek’s belly. “Can—”
Derek takes his hand and guides it down, wraps it around both of their dicks, guides Stiles through one powerful shift of hips, another. “Wait,” he whispers, clicking the cap on the bottle. “Here.”
It’s cool but the glide is more than worth it. Their fuck against each other at a pace that climbs until Derek rolls Stiles onto his back and fucks up against him relentlessly, hips driving hard against the bed. Stiles’ legs spill open around him and fuck, it’s so fucking good—
“I kinda,” says Stiles, awkward. “Uh.”
“Do you need to stop?” asks Derek, and fuck, no, no.
“No, no, this is awesome, this is super awesome, I. Um. Can.”
“I don’t want to say it,” whines Stiles.
“Can I guess?”
“Okay,” says Stiles, bemused. I want you to fuck me in the ass is blaring out pretty obviously right now, with his legs hooked over Derek’s hips, so Stiles isn’t sure what Derek’s doing but then he begins to sink, slow and then all at once and his mouth is – his mouth—
“I’m not gonna – I’m not gonna last,” he gasps, trying to resists grabbing Derek’s head. “Derek.”
Derek bobs his head and sucks, and Stiles’ hips arch after him on the upstroke. “Derek, I want you to fuck me—”
“Are you sure,” says Derek, breath fanning warm on the spit-slick skin of Stiles’ cock.
"So sure, super sure, I have condoms and everything.”
“Where are they? I’ll get them.”
Stiles waves a disorientated hand at the plastic box that acts as his nightstand. “Oh, fuck, my laptop,” he says, when he sees that it’s fallen on the floor.
“Everything’s fine,” says Derek, stooping to look at it. He pops open the box and then goes very still. “Are these—”
"Yes, they are, but you totally aren’t gonna see it once we doing the, uh, so get your ass back here.”
* * *
The first finger is strange and weird and Stiles stares up into Derek’s face in shocked silence. The slow press and push is dragging, he can feel it, and that’s weird in of itself.
“Are you okay,” says Derek, watching his face carefully.
“Yeah,” says Stiles.
Derek seats his finger in at the broad base of his knuckles and leaves it there, leaning in to kiss Stiles. He draws it slowly out after a moment and then pushes back in just as slowly, taking great care. Stiles kisses him again and pushes against it and oh, that’s – there’s something about that—
Derek reads the change in the tilt of Stiles’ hips and picks up the past, until the rush of it is lighting Stiles on fire from within. Out of the corner of his eye Stiles sees Avius form from the shadows under the bed and leap out, tackling Tilly to the floor. The daemons roll over and over together as Derek fingerfucks Stiles open, and the warm glow from their touch is as soothing as the fucking is heating. “God, Derek,” whispers Stiles. “This is—”
“Yeah,” says Derek, into his throat. “Two?”
“Y-yeah,” says Stiles. Then, “Yeah.”
It burns but it’s delicious, the way it tingles, the ache a thing of satisfaction. Stiles lies still until it passes and then pushes against Derek, and the new torque of his hips drags his cock against Derek’s stomach with every pass.
Derek flexes above him and fuck, he’s fucked the mattress while he fucks Stiles with his fingers, he’s—
“Three,” asks Derek, voice a low rasp.
“Three,” says Stiles.
It burns more and Stiles quakes on it, hips lifted, mouth open on a wordless sound. It trembles and then subsides and he’s easing into it, Derek kissing his eyelids, his forehead, his cheeks as the burn gentles.
“Derek,” he says, opening his eyes. He can’t quite say it, so. “I – green. Really green.”
“But are you green like the Hulk,” says Derek, and Stiles laughs so hard he snorts.
It turns out Derek is a pro at condoms, which is great because Stiles once got called up to do the demo condom onto a giant blue Papa Smurf dildo in front of the whole class and still managed to do it completely wrong. Scott had solemnly given him a singular cheeto by way of sympathy when Stiles told him at lunchtime.
Derek’s dick is now green like the Hulk, and Stiles has to put a hand over his mouth to stop laughing.
“I can’t believe you have bright green condoms,” Derek grumbles, dropping down onto his elbows. The easy weight of him makes Stiles’ stomach clench. He muffles his laughter by dragging Derek down to him by the hair and kissing him.
Derek tilts his hips down and back and there he is, blunt pressure that grows and grows until Stiles’ breath goes out in a thick burst and that’s it, that’s the head, dragging all along inside him as Derek’s hips chase him back against the pillows. “Easy,” says Derek, his stubble a burn that brings Stiles back. “Are you all right?”
“Yeah,” says Stiles. “This is – something. You’re.”
Derek makes a questioning noise, and Stiles clenches a little around him, just to feel it. “You’re fucking me,” he manages, and he sounds as awed as he feels.
Derek bites under his jaw and nudges his hips, again, slow and then fast until it’s a frantic rut that has Stiles gasping at the burn that’s growing with every thrust. He’s so stretched out and oversensitive that he doesn’t quite know what to do. He grabs at his own cock and the sensation pops over him, golden, and he strokes tight and fast as Derek fucks him, fucks him, fucks.
“That’s it,” says Derek, low. “Come on.”
Stiles comes and squeezes up like a vice, squeaking, breath juddering. His limbs tingle and release and he pushes at Derek’s shoulders because it’s too much, it’s too much.
Derek pulls out, gentle, takes off the condom, ties it and gets up briefly to go and stuff it at the bottom of Stiles’ trashcan. He comes back and Stiles it on him immediately, fever-warm and still hazy from orgasm, pulling at Derek’s dick and kissing the corner of his mouth while Derek pants his way through his own orgasm.
"Fuck,” says Stiles, when Derek seizes up and comes, slick on the pale gleam of come that’s on Stiles’ hands already. “Wow.”
“Clean up,” says Derek. His voice is unsteady.
“Give it a minute,” says Stiles. “I’ll deal with it.”
He doesn’t. They fall asleep and wake up in the orange light of late afternoon, the air in the room oddly thick, limbs mellowed by orgasm. Josh is still out, but a few of his things have moved, which means they probably gave him an eyeful. At least they’re under the covers.
Stiles glances down. Welp, maybe not. They must have been thrown off while they were – yeah.
* * *
There’s the indignity of clean-up, cramped together in a crappy college shower where the curtain is determined to feel up their butts and the water temperature is best described as ‘mercurial.’ They kiss and exchange slow handjobs that leave them shuddering under the spill of water on their skin.
There’s the police tape that bisects the campus for the next week, the shadowed look in Hardy’s eyes, the students who dropped out after the killings. There are others out there but Stiles doesn’t know where they are or if they will even be a trouble, and they’ve dealt with worse.
“What is it?” asks Derek, one day when they’re getting coffee on campus and Stiles is staring over his shoulder at the library.
“Can I tell you something?” asks Stiles. He thinks of his mom, of what he knows about her, of what she told him. He knows what it means, to be a spark. He knows that now. It’s not about the magic, or the power. It’s about believing that things can and will change. It’s about using that belief to do something good.
“Sure,” says Derek.
“I adore you,” says Stiles. “I know that’s not love, but it’s what I understand right now, and I don’t think we’re ready for more.”
“What a coincidence,” says Derek. “I just so happen to adore you too.”