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A lot of people think being an actor is all glitz and glamour. That it's all about making money. About the fame, about being an artiste, about becoming immortal.

They ignore the reality of the job.

They ignore the reality of long hours, countless unrealized dreams, the real danger of mental and physical exhaustion, the uncomfortable fervor with which hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions of people, watch your every move. They ignore that, maybe, it's unfair to be paid so much when all you're doing is providing a fantasy in visual format.

Not to say that Stiles doesn't love it. Being an actor, that is. It's just that sometimes he wonders just how hard he can work and how much he can deal with before he just screams fuck it and retires to a cabin in the woods. Or a hut on a deserted island.

Derek would probably not appreciate the deserted island idea. His house, though—their house—is pretty much in the middle of the woods, so all Stiles has to do is stop working, and he's good to go.

He could be a stay-at-home boyfriend. That would be cool. Maybe get his accountant to buff up his portfolio so he's even more obscenely fucking rich than he is now and… they're set, pretty much. Derek could do his deputy thing, Stiles could… fuck if he knows, maybe take up woodworking or something. Sell wooden wolf figurines to old ladies who like the rustic and charming look.

… okay probably not.

What Stiles is saying here, really, is that it's nice to be home. Home in Beacon Hills, sitting on a couch that is far too comfy, watching Netflix and waiting for Derek to get off work so Stiles can force him to make them dinner.

He'll do it—Derek will do it—if only because Stiles has only been home for a week, and Derek's happiness at having Stiles back home, and not in India any more, cancels out any annoyance at having to cook increasingly complicated dishes for him. Although he looked pretty peevish yesterday when Stiles asked for curry.

Which was what Stiles was trying to do. Make him peeved, that is.

Peeved Derek means pretending-to-be-annoyed Derek, and pretending-to-be-annoyed Derek means… well, fuck, it means that Stiles is home, is what it means.

"Pitiful, Stilinski," Stiles mutters to himself, and he probably only imagines that the words echo around the living room, down the hall to the renovated guest bedroom that neither of them use, and then back to the kitchen. There's too much furniture for there to be an echo. Plus the TV is on.

Stiles adjusts his position on the sofa, bringing his feet under him and stretching until his back creaks. He realizes, with a pang, that he's shit-faced bored and lonely, and… and they should get a dog.

A big one, and wolfish, because Stiles loves the irony in that. From the pound, too. Maybe a couple. Three. They should get three dogs. Enough so that when Stiles sits on the couch and waits for Derek to come home, he's not surrounded by empty space and the depressing drone of characters he's seen thousand of times saying lines he's heard just as much. Enough so that when Stiles has to leave, go somewhere for a couple of months to film on location, or drive to LA for a couple of days, Derek isn't alone either.

Stiles doesn't know why they haven't gotten a dog earlier, actually. Isn't that, like, what couples do? They've been together for… three years, fuck. And this last trip to India was really the only time Stiles had been gone for longer than three months, so it's not like he wouldn't take care of the dog.

Three months, two weeks, four days. Stiles didn't count the hours because he's not a fucking idiot. And it hadn't been… okay, it had been horrible, because Derek only came to India once to see him, and he kept sniffing things and eying people and being difficult.

The sex had been amazing, but then again, it usually is.

So, yeah, Stiles should get a dog. Derek won't say yes, but if he just brings the dog home, it's not like Derek would be enough of an asshole to take it back.

Then again he might kick Stiles out of the bedroom. Deny him sex on principle. Mope around the house for weeks on end and get that haunted look in his eyes that Stiles hates.

Damn it.

Suddenly annoyed, Stiles jumps up from the sofa, not even bothering to pause the TV because he's seen this episode of Buffy way too many times for it to be funny any more. He doesn't even know why he's watching it. Nostalgia, maybe. Earlier he had been working on the computer—Miranda's on her honeymoon, and Joan has been handling him for the last couple of weeks, which means more work for Stiles—so it was probably for the background noise.

He walks into the kitchen (newly renovated as well, and everything has computers now. It's fucking awesome, because the fridge has a screen and he can check the weather, okay?) through the arch that connects it to the living room, going over to the cupboard to find something to snack on.

It's boredom snacking—the worst fucking kind—and his trainer would kill him for even thinking about it.

He's shifting through practically empty cereal boxes—fucking Derek doesn't know how to just eat the rest of the cereal, for fuck's sake—and the last of the green tea Kit-Kat bars Stiles had brought from Japan on his way home, when his phone starts singing the batman theme song.

The sound makes him grin, because Derek has the same ringtone for him, and there's a story behind it, one that's long and complicated and so saccharine sweet it shouldn't be real, but it is, and he pulls it out of his side pocket one-handed.

"Hey honey-buns," he greets, just to hear Derek snarl.

"Stiles," Derek breathes, and Stiles's chest clenches, because he knows that voice. It's not a good voice; not the kind of breathy sigh Derek gives him in bed or after a long day, when he just wants to sleep. This is a bad sound. This is the tone Derek uses when he's relieved no one is dead or dying.

"What happened?" Stiles forgets the snack and kicks the cupboard door closed with his foot, walking on auto-pilot to the front door. Two years ago, Stiles had ten-foot stone walls erected around the acre surrounding the house, complete with an automatic gate and security cameras, after the third time he opened the door in his PJ's to a strange package on the porch (terrifyingly gory and graphic fan art. Also toe nails), but it's habit that takes him to the front door now and has him jiggling the door knob to make sure it's locked, habit that makes him slide the dead bolt into place.

"Dead body," Derek says. "Found in the graveyard, recently murdered. Haven't got an ID yet, but, fuck… Stiles."

"What?" Stiles asks, knowing that's not it. There has to be a supernatural spin to this, or else Derek wouldn't be calling. If it was just a murder, he would wait, would call Stiles and talk slow, almost in a murmur. When he finally came home—probably early in the morning, maybe even after the sun came up—he would crawl into bed, or wherever Stiles was, his shoulders stiff and his hands clenched, and Stiles would joke or just stay silent or maybe rub at the back of his neck the way he liked until some of the tension left the room.

Derek only reserves this voice for when the police aren't the ones that are going to have to solve the crime; for when they are.

"She was… chewed on," Derek continues. "Ripped open, Stiles. Intestines. Skin. Whatever it was left her lungs and carved out her heart. She was pulled apart and… eaten. I don't recognize the smell, but it's not human, and I need—"

"Security system is on," Stiles interrupts. "Doors are locked."

"Scott is coming over," Derek says, letting out a breath, and Stiles can practically see him deflating over the line. "Isaac and Erica are trying to sniff it out."

"Good, good," Stiles says. "Dad?"

"He knows," Derek says. In the background, Stiles can hear rustling. The sound of Derek walking over grass and then, later, asphalt "He's letting us handle it."

Stiles nods. "Good," he says. "That's… that's good. So… so I'll start looking up some stuff. Allison updated the bestiary a couple of months ago, right? While I was in India?"

"Yeah," Derek says.

"Cool," Stiles sits back down on the couch and leans forward to grab his laptop off the coffee table. "Can you give me some details, then?"

"Blunt teeth. Human, not animal," Derek says. "Smells like… fuck it smells familiar, Stiles, but I can't place it. Spicy, almost. Dirty."

"That doesn't help at all," Stiles says, even as he types in the smells to the bestiary directory. Nothing comes up.

"I know. Do you think I don't know that?" Derek seethes. Stiles hears the sound of a key being shoved in a lock, then turned. "Did Lydia update the wards around the—"

"Dude, as far as I know. Remember, I haven't been here for three months?" Stiles says, and that gets a grunt out of Derek.

"Every time you leave for a long time and then come back, shit happens," he says, and Stiles hears him opening a car door. He tries searching for "flesh eaters," and comes up with three hundred queries, which… doesn't make Stiles feel good. At all.

"Are you talking about the Sally debacle? Or the hunter crap that happened last year?" Stiles asks. "Because both of those weren't my fault. In fact, they were so not my fault, that—"

"I'm heading to the station now," Derek interrupts, and Stiles hears the sound of a car starting. "Don't open the door for anyone but Scott, and try to look for something—anything—that eats flesh and frequents graveyards."

"Eats flesh, frequents graveyards. Got it," Stiles says. "Will do. Maybe I'll actually find something with that completely useless information, Derek. What doesn't eat flesh and frequent graveyards?"

"Just… stay in the house," Derek says.

"It's adorable how much you care, Derek," Stiles deadpans. "It's not ridiculous at all that you think I'm some kind of—"

"I don't know when I'll be back. And I swear, if you even think about investigating, Stiles, I'm going to throw you in a cell myself."

"Love you too, really dude. The love, as creepy as it is, is felt," Stiles says, hanging up as Derek huffs out a laugh.

Adding the graveyard bit to the bestiary adds thirty more search queries, and Stiles slumps down in the couch, letting out a long, loud, self-pitying groan. He opens the police-scanner app Danny had added to his computer and turns the volume down enough that the constant stream of voices and static is background noise, grinning whenever Derek's voice crackles through. As he searches, he learns, by way of the police scanner, that the victim was female, 5'2, that she was alone, that it was the gravedigger who found her, splayed over the tombstone of one of Beacon Hill's founders.

All of it is creepy and horrible, and Stiles can't be blamed that when his phone rings twenty minutes later, this time with Scott's ringtone, he shrieks.

"Scott," he answers, voice still hoarse. "Fuck, dude, what the hell?"

"What? What happened?" Scott asks.

"Nothing, just…" Stiles clears his throat. "You called."

"Yes, I called," Scott says. "I just checked in on Allison, so I'm, like ten minutes away, so…"

"Haven't found anything. Unless it's a ghoul," Stiles says.

"Not a ghoul. Derek says it doesn't smell like a ghoul," Scott says.

"I swear, why does shit always happen—"

"After you come back?" Scott asks, laughing. "I don't know. I think you've got like, bad joojoo or something."

"It's not like I—oh, fuck." Stiles groans when he's interrupted by the sound of the doorbell ringing. Or, more accurately, a doorbell ringing. Because the house doesn't have a goddamned doorbell. Who needs a doorbell when you have a gate with a passcode and a camera set-up?

Of course, this night wasn't enough of a horror-movie cliché.

"Was that your doorbell?" Scott asks, voice strangled. "I thought you didn't have a doorbell."

"Yeah, yeah it was, dude," Stiles says, pushing his laptop off his lap and managing to place it, carefully, on the coffee table, even though his heart is suddenly beating hard in his chest, his pulse thrumming, his mind racing so fast it's practically blank. "And no, I don't."

He was joking earlier, about the horror-movie cliché thing, but this really is how they all start. The innocent human is at home alone, the sun is setting, and then there's a call, and then a noise, and in the next scene there's blood and screaming and possibly boobs.

"Stiles, you need to… fuck, dude, just go upstairs. I don't know what the fuck is happening and if Lydia didn't—"

"I'm pretty sure she did," Stiles whispers as he starts walking—slow, so the floorboards don't creak under his feet—towards the front door. The window nearest it has curtains, and while the perimeter of the property has cameras now, the front door doesn't. So the only way that Stiles is going to be able to see who rang the doorbell—the doorbell that doesn't exist—is to look out the smallish window in the middle of the door.

Someone is probably going to like, stab him in the eye when he does it, or something. That's how these things work, right?

"Stiles, maybe—" Scott is breathing harder now, and Stiles can hear the sound of screeching tires as he takes a sharp turn. "Just, dude, I'll be there. Could you—this is so fucked. I was supposed to go to bed early tonight!"

"I'm staying on the line, bud. It's all good," Stiles says, and neither of them talk about how his voice is slightly higher than normal. He clears his throat, flinching as the doorbell rings again, and—

"Stiles?" That's Derek's voice. Coming from outside. Except Derek isn't here. Except Derek just called him from… well, Stiles is assuming that he had been leaving the scene of the crime, headed towards the station when he called him. And Derek wou—

"That's not even…" Stiles hears himself say, breathless, fascination suddenly overpowering the sharp slice of panic and fear that runs through him. He surges forward, bypassing the door to yank the curtains back from the window, even as Scott starts swearing, snarling, huffing into his ear, shock factor be fucking damned. "It's a—fuck, Scott…"

Derek is on his porch, except it's not Derek. Derek is staring back at him with too-bright eyes, and a smile that is cold and has too many straight teeth. Teeth that are… stained. With something. His—its?—hands are at his sides, casual and inviting and horrible. In his ear, Scott is yelling at him to go upstairs, and Stiles has half a mind to obey, run up to the bedroom and lock himself in, except, well, fuck, whatever it is isn't coming in for a reason.

Stiles is guessing it's either the wards that Lydia placed over the house, or something else. Maybe there's something to that thing about vampires having to be invited in…

"You're not Derek," he says. In his ear, Scott curses high and loud, yelling that he had better not open the door or he's going to punch Stiles so hard he's going to vomit up his kidneys, or something equally as horrible. He's not sure exactly what, because the thing's smile gets wider, and it takes a step towards the window—triggering the motion-detecting lights as it does so—and places a clawed hand on one of the panes.

There's blood. So much blood. On its hands, red and fresh and there are still bits of something—flesh, probably, muscles and tendons and little white bits of bone—on its skin, dripping down to the floor, and now smearing across the glass. Its lips are stained red, there's dried blood on its chin and nose and…

It doesn't say anything. It doesn't have to. Stiles's chest clenches, and dimly, he can feel his heart beating loud and terrified. It smiles, slow and wide, with Derek's face and Derek's mouth. And it just… stays there. One red hand raised, the other at its side, a horrible smiling ripping its face in two. It stays there, frozen, until it's not anymore. Until in a flurry of movement its banging against the window, face contorted—not just in anger, but in something else, something that makes its features sharper, more pronounced, less human—eyes flashing a sickly yellow.

Stiles shrieks, isn't even fucking embarrassed that he shrieks, and scrambles back, tripping over the rug and falling on his ass to the floor. The monster, whatever it is, just keeps banging, garbling out words that aren't really words, just syllables and grunts and guttural snorts from the back of its throat.

It sounds familiar, but Stiles can't place it.

His mind blank, his throat closing up and his chest clenching, heartbeat hard and fast and horrible, as he continues watching, he manages—somehow, doesn't really know how, maybe because he's lived a lifetime of being familiar with this kind of shit—to open the camera app on his phone, and start taking video.

It's shaky, because he's trembling, shivering even as he continues crawling backwards until his shoulders hits the edge of the coffee table, but it's something. Something to show the others. The… the thing—it's not Derek anymore, doesn't even look like a suggestion of what Derek could be, its features morphed into something smooth and unreal and flat—keeps banging at the window, scrambling and, and… and squawking. The glass starts cracking in little spider-web designs, and Stiles is on his feet in a second, looking around for something—anything, why don't they keep any weapons downstairs anymore!?—to defend himself with.

He doesn't find anything, and maybe, as the glass cracks in—shatters actually, with shards of glass flying at him—he whimpers and flinches back, waiting for a blow that never comes.

He breathes in, once, breathes out after that. He focuses his gaze past the panic, past the fear, and the thing is just standing in front of the broken window, hand raised, like a mime, against glass that isn't there.

"Stiles," it says, in a strangled voice that shudders down Stiles's spine. There's a weird clicking at the 't' and its tongue presses down to hard on the 'l.'

"Holy shit," Stiles says, and glances down to make sure that he's getting this on camera—he is, and at the back of his head, he hopes that his ability to get a visual of the… the whatever, the monster, is enough to make Derek slightly less pissy towards him when he finds out Stiles was too much of an idiot to just barricade himself somewhere safe.

"Stiles," it hisses, drawing out the s's like it's savoring the sound. Its eyes flick to glow yellow, and it bangs its hand against… against air.

"Holy shit," Stiles says again, this time because he's… incredulous would a good word. It can't get in. Lydia's wards are holding it back. "Lydia," he croaks, getting up on weak legs, his eyes on the monster, "you are a sweet, precious, beauti—fuck!"

There's no warning. No sound. No howl like back in the good old days to announce the arrival of the hero. The monster is there, opening his mouth to hiss out Stiles's name again, and then he's not, and Stiles hears claws and snarling and the hard slams of heavy bodies against wood. He scrambles up, throwing his phone on the couch and grabbing, of all things, a fucking lamp—he's panicking, he's angry, he suddenly doesn't care that it's a two hundred dollar antique brass lamp because there's a monster outside and he needs it gone—and then he's jumping out the broken window.

His jeans snag on one of the sharp jagged edges left behind, and there's suddenly a tearing pain in his leg—one that feels wrong, and deep and bloody—but he doesn't care, just shakes it free and runs over to the corner where the thing, whatever it is, has Scott up against the wall, with its hand in front of his face, its fingers glowing an eerie green. Stiles doesn't think, doesn't have time to think. He lifts the lamp and brings it down, hard, against the side of the monster's face.

It's a surprise to him when the thing screams, high and pitiful, and collapses to the floor, scrambling backwards in a sort of demented, jerky crab-walk. It's probably a bigger surprise to Scott, because even with him wolfed out and wheezing out breathes, Stiles can hear the confused noise he makes at the back of his throat.

Then the moment is over, and Scott is yelling at him to go inside, and the monster is shaking itself off and… and jumping off the porch and sprinting into the woods.

And Stiles is confused.

When Stiles goes back home for winter break his freshmen year of college, he waits three hours before he goes to check if Derek hasn't killed himself or burned down the Hale house again. He's already seen Scott, already regaled dad with stories of how utterly boring college life is, already texted anyone and everyone who could possibly care that he was back in town, so there's really nothing else to do except go see Deputy Hale.

Fuck that's just weird. Stiles doesn't think he's ever going to get used to that.

When he pulls up in front of the house, Derek is sitting on the top step of the front porch, a sardonic eyebrow already raised in his direction. Stiles lets himself look for just a second—at the way Derek's jaw slopes, at the stubble he can never get rid of (probably doesn't want to, because Stiles swears the dude styles it to look so perfect), at the slight smile on his lips and the loose (at least, loose for Derek) way he's holding his shoulders—and then climbs out of the jeep and walks over.

"Officer," Stiles says, and ignores the way his brain makes that sound dirty, brings to mind a shitload of kinks that Stiles has been studiously trying to ignore since the first time he saw Derek in his uniform.

Derek snorts up at him, but then he inhales, his face getting a strange, almost pinched, look. His eyes go intense, zoom in on Stiles's, then towards his jeep, then back at him again, and Stiles has to wonder if Derek smells the one-night stand Stiles had a week ago with that dude from the party. Brandon. Bryce. Brad. B-something. He has to, right? Werewolves always smell things when it's least—

"Stiles," Derek says, after what is probably a couple of seconds, but what feels like an eon, his face losing its sour edge, to be replaced by a grin. "I'm a Deputy."

"Deputy," Stiles says, "I'm the Sheriff's son, I can call you whatever the fuck I want."

"Right, still an asshole," Derek says. "Why did I think college would make you any less annoying?

"Never as much of an asshole as you, Derek," Stiles says fondly, and goes to sit next to him on the porch. "Plus, you love when I'm annoying. Gives you something to be angry at."

"A—Aswang?" Stiles says, squinting his eyes at the computer screen in hopes that he'll be able to read the text better. Or, actually, pronounce the word better. "Or a… a suangi? Or, fuck I don't even know how to… manananggal? All of them are flesh eaters," he finishes, looking up at Scott in hopes that maybe he'll offer… something. Something other than the irritated glare he's been giving Stiles for the last ten minutes. "Dude, I'm trying to—"

"You hit a monster with a lamp," Scott interrupts. "A brass lamp, Stiles."

"I've got video of it, though," Stiles says, very much aware that he sounds petulant.

"You're bleeding," Scott continues. "I don't even—Derek didn't even say anything on the phone, you know that, right? Just grunted when I told him."

"Why do you think I told you to call him?" Stiles asks.

"You're bleeding, and he's going to come in here and do that broody look thing that he's too old to do now, and then he's going to make everyone babysit you until—"

"Woah, dude," Stiles looks up from the screen—he keeps pulling up monsters from the Philippines, and all of them sound equally horrendous—to glare at Scott. "Over the line. I was the one that hit him—it—over the head. I'm not—"

"I know, I know." Scott deflates into his chair. The living room is a mess, but neither of them really care. It's been ten—twelve—minutes since whatever it was—maybe Stiles should call it Bob, just to give it a name, make it seem less intimidating—ran off into the woods, and the adrenaline is wearing off. "I just… that was really sudden. The, uh, escalation."

"Right?" Stiles asks. "One minute Derek's telling me to be careful; the next, bam, monster at my door."

"It knew your name," Scott says. "So this is all your fault."

"I…" Stiles doesn't have anything to say to that. "Fine, I'll take it. What do you want? I'll treat for pizza in pittance, or something."

Scott blinks, scratches at his nose—it has blood on it. Stiles doesn't know whose it is. "I… you mean, like a—yeah sure, pizza sounds good. Later. Next week."

"Good." Stiles sighs, slides down to rest his head on the sofa. "Should you call Allison? Anyone else? Maybe if we have witnesses Derek won't go all white-knight protector on me."

"He's not that—"

"Shhhh, let me have my fantasies." Stiles glances back at the computer screen. "So, why do we never know what the creatures we're dealing with are? Can't it be like back in high school? Werewolves, lots of werewolves. And hunters. At least then we knew what we were dealing with."

"Fuck that," Scott says. "Although… fuck this, too."

"Fuck everything," Stiles agrees. He sighs again. "Have I mentioned that I'm an actor? That I get paid millions of dollars to act? In movies, Scott? And yet, for some odd reason, we can never just… hire someone to deal with the creature of the week."

"It's been, like, five months since we've dealt with anything weird," Scott points out, then scrunches his nose. "Although that was a werewolf with personal space issues, not some creepy ass magic flesh-eating… thing, so I guess the common denominator is you."

"What can I say, dude," Stiles says, scrolling half-heartedly down the list of monsters he still hasn't looked at, "I'm a catalyst. A trouble magnet. A—"

"—Pain in the ass," Scott finishes, affectionately. "Asshole. Kind of a douche…" he trails off as his phone rings, grabs it form where he threw it on the coffee table—the coffee table that's in disarray now, from the earlier… incident—and the smile that follows is the one that means it's Allison on the line.

"Allison," Scott answers. He gets up, walks over to the kitchen, leaving Stiles alone with the goddamned spooky-ass broken window and bestiary. Damn it.

Stiles closes his eyes, breathes in and out as slowly as possible, and tries to just think. There's something here—a connection, a factor, just… something—that when he finds it, is going to make sense of everything. He's too freaked out, still, though, to think straight. Too… fuck, too out of practice, because everything since that last big drama with the shifters has been small, almost cute.

Although the hunters that had come to town last year weren't cute. They were ugly. Also trigger-happy. But still, even during the three weeks that had been kind of like a mini cold-war scenario, it had been nothing like tonight. Nothing like the fear that clenched at his lungs and clawed at his throat, nothing that made him crash like this.

Hasn't even been twenty minutes post incident, and he's crashing.

Maybe he's getting old. Maybe he's going to—

"Stiles." Derek is suddenly standing over him, deputy's uniform rumpled and sweaty, breathing in and out past teeth that are white and sharp. Stiles looks over to see the door open, looks down to see Derek's shoes still on, looks up to see Derek's face a mixture of anger and worry and confusion.

"I've got video," he greets. "I took video, and the wards that Lydia put up seemed to work—it couldn't come in, so that's always… uh, good."

Derek deflates, sits down hard on the edge of the coffee table and just looks at him. From the kitchen, Stiles hears laughter as Scott talks to Allison.

"You're bleeding," Derek says, and he reaches forward and rubs at Stiles's forehead. Stiles leans into the touch because he can. "Or, you were… I, fuck, your leg, Stiles."

Stiles tries to nod and shrug at the same time; it doesn't work out so well. "Did you find out anything about the victim? In the graveyard?" Stiles asks, reaching up to grip at Derek's wrist, bring Derek's hand down to hold it between his

"In the five minutes between me calling you, and the… whatever it was coming here?" Derek's question starts out humorous, but then turns into a snarl—almost, no, definitely territorial—and he grips Stiles's hand hard. "No, I didn't. It smells like death on the porch, though. Death and something… something older."

Derek looks weary and tired. If it wasn't for the elongated teeth and the too-tight grip, he would almost look old, human, breakable. And of course, the guilt hits Stiles hard and sudden, and he sighs, pushes himself until he's sitting on the edge of the sofa, close enough to Derek that he can lean forward and rest his head on Derek's shoulder.

He smells like bad coffee and sweat and Derek, and it's more comforting than Stiles is expecting it to be. And he was expecting it to be pretty fucking comforting.

"I hit it with a lamp," he admits, and Derek chokes out a laugh, brings his arm up to start rubbing at the nape of Stiles's neck. "That brass thing that Miranda bought us. It uh… I took video?"

"You're an idiot," Derek says, mouth brushing up against his ear, and Stiles shrugs, wraps his arms around Derek's waist and holds on.

"It looked like you," Stiles says, eventually. He can't hear Scott anymore, although that could be because he's too busy listening to Derek's breathing as it slows, gets calmer, deeper. "Rang the doorbell—I know, we don't have a doorbell, don't ask me—smiled at me and then said my name. In this weird… weird almost… I guess a foreign accent?"

Derek sighs, low and long-suffering. He kisses Stiles slow and desperate, licks into his mouth like he does when he wants to know that Stiles is here, is fine, is safe, and then he stands, walks over to the shattered window, and starts sniffing around. Literally, that is. Literally sniffing.

Shaking himself out, laughing a bit, Stiles stands up, and limps—his leg doesn't need stitches, but it is bleeding through his jeans, and it's kind of hilarious that none of them are really freaked out about it—over to stand next to Derek as he brings up the video on his phone. Stiles shoves it at him as it starts playing, wincing at the guttural noises that are coming from both the thing and him.

There's blood on the ragged edges of the window, probably both his and the… shit, it's not the creature's because the thing didn't bleed. It's the blood of the girl that was killed. The girl that the creature was… eating.

Fuck, sometimes real life is stranger than the movies. Or maybe it's just his life. Other people probably don't deal with… with shapeshifting flesh-eaters on a normal Tuesday night. They probably go bowling or something.

"Does it smell the same?" Stiles asks, once the video stops playing and Derek shoves it back at him with a snarl, the crease between his eyebrows deepening into an even harsher 'V.'

"Yes," Derek says and rests a hand on his standard issue in what Stiles has come to know—as a son to a Sheriff and a boyfriend to a deputy and, to a lesser extent, from shadowing around an LA police officer for a couple of weeks for that cop drama he did early last year—as a nervous gesture. Stiles steps closer, splays his hand on Derek's back and presses down.

There's a thrill, he thinks, with getting to touch someone so casually, and with knowing that when you do, it speaks in more than words.

(Although fuck, he's twenty-eight, maybe it's too early to start with the little nuggets of wisdom.)

"And that smell is? What? Death? Destruction? Anger? Give me something to work off of in addition to 'eats flesh' and 'shifts shapes.' I mean, there are hundreds of those out there."

"Scott is talking to Lydia," Derek says instead of answering him, wiping his index finger through the smear of blood in one of the shards of glass and sniffing at it. Stiles hopes it's not his. That would be weird. Not that it's not weird already, it's just that it would be weirder if Stiles's blood were involved. "I was thinking that Sally would know something."

"Because she's a shifter?" Stiles scrunches up his nose, because that… makes sense. Kind of. "Yeah, but, there are shifters and then there is… whatever the fuck that was."

"It smells… spicy," Derek says, glancing out the window. "And—"

"Lydia and Allison are coming over," Scott interrupts, walking into the living room from the kitchen. "Boyd's still in that meeting, and he won't be out for a couple of hours. Isaac and Erica haven't found anything yet—"

"Because it was here," Stiles says.

"… Because it was here," Scott agrees. "And uh… that's it?"

"Dad?" Stiles looks at Derek, who shrugs.

"At the station; I didn't have time to tell him you were getting yourself in trouble again."

"Hey." Stiles gives him the middle finger, although it's slightly less effective because his middle finger is red and swollen and slightly bloody. "I got video of it, even as it was doing its creepy little interpretation of you. I don't even know why the fuck it was out there, of all the fucking plac—"

"Alpha?" Scott points at Derek, then at himself, shrugs when Stiles gives him a look. "Maybe it was looking for… uh, a challenge. Or something."

"And I'm the challenge?" Stiles asks. "Or am I the damsel in distress? Because I keep reiterating this, fucker; I hit it with a brass antique lamp. What more do you want from me!?"

"You could have, oh, I don't know—" Derek has that tone of voice, the one that means he's going to roll his eyes and sigh dramatically within the next three minutes. "—maybe not just stare down the crazy monster, Stiles?"

Ah, and there it is, the eye-roll.

"Meh," he says. "I feel like this was more exciting."

"More… more exciting?" Derek says, walking to the front door, then out to the porch, trailing his hand—claws out—along the scratches left from the fight. "Did it do anything else? Anything that could help us find out what it is?"

"Its hand was glowing," Scott says, poking his head out of the door. "In my face, and it was snarling in some foreign language before Stiles hit it."

"With a lamp. So, it's foreign?" Stiles offers, and when both Derek and Scott look at him, he shrugs. "What!? I was just looking up some stuff from the Philippines. Was it speaking Filipino... err, Tagalog?"

"No idea," Scott says. "I don't speak Tagalog." Derek snorts from where he's glaring at a particularly vicious set of claw marks in the wood next to the window, but doesn't say anything in response. Which means he's either in deep thought or is choosing to ignore them.

It's probably the latter.

"Okay, so… foreign," Stiles starts pacing, working his hands through his hair as he does because it just feels good. "Killed random girl in graveyard, ate her flesh, can shape shift… but isn't a shifter, has magic, but isn't a witch. Isn't human, because the way it changed… that wasn't human." It was… it was fluid, the way the creature's face had morphed. Nothing like the bone-crunching, skin-stretching shift that Stiles is used to seeing from the werewolves. More disgusting, though. He sighs. "We should probably wait for Allison and Lydia for this. I've got nothing."

"What a surprise," Scott says, and Stiles gives him the middle finger again. He limps back inside soon after that—when he gets bored of watching Derek glare at things and Scott looking off into the yard and woods surrounding their property, nervousness clear on his face—and goes up to the bathroom to clean up the scratches and injuries he's been neglecting until now.

He rips off his jeans to get to the slice running down the outside of his calf, wincing as the denim sticks to the already drying blood. The last time he had a cut this bad—one that has so much… depth to it—he was back in India, shooting an explosion scene for Grenwald Proxy. There had been a random block of wood, a misplaced extra, and faulty equipment, and even then he hadn't really been bothered by it. Had made them keep shooting just so he could get done with the fucking scene and go home. Although they had made him go to the hospital in the end, even if the cut wasn't bad enough for stitches.

… He's not going to the hospital now, for obvious reasons. He doesn't need to because the cut looks like it's going to stop bleeding any moment now. And even if it doesn't stop bleeding he can just get Scott to stitch it up for him.

He's done it before.

Anyway, Stiles lifts his injured leg on the sink countertop after he gets the first aid kit from the cabinet underneath it—new, granite, fucking cold against bare skin, holy fuck—and starts prodding at his leg with a cotton swab doused in liberal amounts of alcohol. He's just fumbling with one of the larger bandages, wondering if he should put gauze underneath it on top of the wound or just… whatever, when Scott appears at the open bathroom door, looks at him, and sighs, his shoulders sagging.

"Does it need stitches? It didn't smell like it needed stitches," he says, walking in and grabbing Stiles's leg to flatten it against the countertop, bending down to squint at it. "Your middle finger is sprained. None of the other scratches are this deep, right?"

Stiles… Stiles hasn't really been paying attention to any of that. Except for the finger thing. He looks in the mirror, sees a faint red line cutting across his forehead and another over his nose. Probably from exploding glass.

"No, I'm good, dude," Stiles says, glancing down at his arms just to make sure—some faint scratches, nothing else. He's fine. Freaked out, sure. Confused as fuck. But fine. "Aside from the gash in my leg."

"It doesn't need stitches," Scott says, using deft fingers to grab bandages and alcohol and some cream shit that Stiles never uses from the first aid kit. "You're exaggerating. Stay still."

"Says the werewolf," Stiles reminds him, "who would be healed already."

"You get bitchy when you're injured," Scott says, glancing up from Stiles's leg to grin at him. "Should I call lover-boy in here, have him suck out the pain—"

"Yeah," Stiles can't help interrupting, "if it's through my di—"

"I walked into that," Scott interrupts just as quickly, talking loud over Stiles like it will stop him. "Lydia's downstairs with Derek. Allison's ten minutes away. I don't know where the others are."

"Cool," Stiles says, and then watches as Scott finishes bandaging him up, then grabs his hand and uses a popsicle stick to splint his middle finger.

"So," Scott says once he's finished shoving the first aid kid back underneath the sink, "you think this is gonna be something big? Derek seems tense."

"I don't know, man." Stiles goes to rub his temple and only remembers not to when his splinted finger hits him in the eye. "Maybe Erica and Isaac will find it tonight? We can deal with it and… fuck, I didn't ask about dad."

"You… yeah you did," Scott says, "Isn't he back at the station?"

"Yeah, but—"

"He's at the station!" Derek yells from downstairs, and faintly, Stiles hears the sound of one of Lydia's derisive snorts. "He's good, Stiles. I didn't tell him about this."

Stiles sighs and hops up off the counter. "Right," he says. "I'm gonna go get pants on."

"And… that's a dead body," Stiles says. He crouches down, far enough away that if he falls forward, his face won't be anywhere near dead flesh full of writhing maggots, but close enough that he can see details, as horribly and nausea-inducing as they are. Behind him, Scott makes a wounded noise, dad sighs, and Derek snorts out something that sounds suspiciously like 'idiot.'

"Good work, son," dad says. "Now that the case is solved we can all—"

"There's something familiar about this," Stiles says, before he can think about it. The victim's heart is gone—a gaping hole in the middle of its chest, a chest that is so decomposed that Stiles can't even tell if it's a man or woman—and there are scratches criss-crossing across its skin. They form an X, and there's some sort of message there, some sort of warning or technique or just… just a signature.

"You mean the X," dad says, taking a step forward and leaning down, pointing at the marks with his pen.

"Yeah, yeah those," Stiles says. "Not so much the gaping heart bit, though. Don't understand that, actually. Do we know of anything that eats heart? Human heart? Scott? Derek?"

"Why'd you ask me first? Derek would know more about that then me," Scott says.

"I don't fucking eat humans hearts, Scott," Derek snarls.

"That's not what I was saying, dude! God, get the stick out of your ass. I was saying you'd know more about… you know, you usually do know more stuff about this! In the books in your hou—"

Derek glares. "I don't know anything about this. I've never heard of anything that eats human hearts—"

"Who said anything about eating it? That thing was pulled out by a hand, or a, a claw or something. Not teeth." Dad asks. "It could just be the killer's M.O."

"That actually doesn't make it any better," Derek says.

"I'm telling you, Scott, there's something familiar about it," Stiles repeats, still trying to figure out why it feels so familiar.

"What, the smell?" Scott says. "All dead bodies smell strangely similar, Stiles, seeing as they're dead."

"No, not the smell, wolf-boy, the… the way it's laid out, and how its heart is gone. I don't know, it's just… familiar."

"No, I didn't re-set the wards," Lydia scoffs, pacing—leisurely, if you can pace leisurely—in front of the broken window. "Why the hell would I re-set the wards? There hasn't been anything like this in months."

"So…" Stiles elbows Derek, who's standing next to him, hand on his shoulder as he tries to subtly take away some of Stiles's pain (there's not a lot, but hey, it's adorable) in the chest as he tenses, probably gearing up so he can yell or snarl or growl at Lydia until she raises an unimpressed eyebrow at him. "So the creature just… couldn't come in, then."

"That—" Scott starts, then stops, sinking down next to where Allison is glaring at her laptop on the sofa, his face set in a confused frown. "So…"

"So we're dealing with vampires?" Stiles asks, because he can't help it. "Because I've got to tell you, that thing was not like any fucking vampire I've ever—"

"No, didn't smell like a vampire," Derek interrupts.

"How the hell do you know what a vampire smells like?" Stiles asks, not even going near the whole "so vampires actually exist thing" because really, he should've expected it. Derek shrugs.

"I lived in New York when I was a kid. You learn things when you live in New York."

"Yeah, sure," Stiles eyes him for a bit, shoves his elbow into Derek's sternum for good measure. "So, not a vampire, it just can't come into the house un-invited. That has to narrow it down, right, Allison?"

"Right," Allison snorts, even as she types. "So from three hundred it's down to one-fifty. That's lovely."

"Did you add the foreign thing?" Stiles asks, and Allison just looks up at him until he holds both hands up in surrender. "Fine, fine. Leaving you to work your magic."

"Why was it after you?" Lydia asks, and rolls her eyes at the answering silence. "So it has a what, an actor boner?"

"I was thinking it was because Derek is, uh, is an Alpha?" Scott offers. "You know, the whole—"

"No, I don't think so," Lydia interrupts, and stops pacing. She grins. "I think you've got a fan, Stiles."

"That's horrible and disgusting and is not true, at all," Stiles says. "Did you see that thing's eyes?!" He shudders at the memory. "It wanted to kill me."

"It's not important who or what it wants," Derek says. "We're going to kill it either way."

"Don't you always say that?" Stiles asks, grinning when Derek just rolls his eyes.

"From the looks of it, I don't think killing it is going to present a conflict of ethics," Lydia says. She frowns down at her nails for a second, then looks back up. "Do you think it's… do you think it's even alive?"

"The way it moved made it seem—"

"Horror-movie esque?" Allison says, and all of them—save Derek, who just rolls his eyes again, then walks into the kitchen for what Stiles assumes is a drink or a snack or… something—nod in agreement.

"I feel like," Stiles says, walking over to plop down on the sofa next to Allison so he can watch the computer screen and point things out if necessary, "my life has always been seventy-six, maybe eighty, percent more susceptible to becoming a cliché horror movie than the average person."

"Ninety-three," Lydia says. "Ninety-three percent more susceptible than the average twenty-eight year old American actor."

"How many twenty-eight year old American actors are there?" Stiles asks, because it sounds like Lydia has done here homework. He's slightly disappointed when she shrugs.

"Don't know; not important. Your life—our life—is a horror movie, but it's not cliché."

"The last two hours," Stiles says, "could've been the opening scene to any slasher pic released in the last twenty years, Lydia. All that was missing was the steamy opening make-out scene and boobs."

"Yeah," Lydia says, grinning. "But we're not all going to die, are we? It takes us an average of one week to get the big baddies, Stiles. I give this two, three days tops."

"It's kind of terrifying how much you three have thought about this," Scott says. "Also; back to the topic."

"Shouldn't we wait for the others to get here? Have a—" Stiles says.

"They're going home after," Derek yells from the kitchen. "Something about meetings in the morning."

Stiles sighs, watches as Allison pulls up information on wendigos. "Fuck," he says, "My life isn't a horror movie, it's Supernatural."

"Werewolves eat people on Supernatural," Scott points out. "I don't think—"

"No, no, I mean… yeah, that's wrong," Stiles interrupts. "But the whole… creature of the week thing."

"More like a creature of the year now, isn't it? Creature of the 4.5 months," Allison says. "And we haven't started and ended the apocalypse yet, so…"

"Regardless," Stiles says, "I think that—"

"There's no angel family-feud, either," Allison says. "Death isn't an awesome dude with a penchant for deep-dish pizza—

"You're paying too much attention to the details," Stiles says. "I'm just saying there's enough drama interwoven with supernatural crises that we could be—"

"So does this tangent mean we're done for the night?" Lydia interrupts, just as Derek comes back from the kitchen, can of soda in hand. There's a pause, and Stiles waits for someone to object—for Derek to object, because usually he's the first one to do it—but no one says anything. And Stiles kind of… agrees.

He's less panicked now, more removed from the whole thing with the window and the screaming and the creature that knew his name, and all he wants to do is maybe eat dinner (have Derek cook dinner first), fuck around on the Internet (look up his name on the Internet), and maybe watch some TV on his laptop (in the bedroom, because as "removed" as he is, he's not going to watch TV in a living room with a bloody window).

Maybe they've gotten immune to the whole supernatural scene. Maybe Lydia's right, and as cliché as this seems, all of them are too tired and too used to it to actually give a shit. There's a routine to these things, and now that Stiles is thinking about it, it's kind of hard to miss. The big bad attacks something; they find out who or what the big bad is; they attack the big bad and kill it. Or maim it. Or whatever.

There are details to be worked out, and at one point, someone is going to get bloody, someone else is going to get annoyed, and Derek is probably going to do the "I'm-so-intimidating-look-at-me" face later, but Stiles is fairly confident that whatever the fuck just attacked his house is going to regret it.

"Yeah," Stiles says, when no one else speaks. "At least we know it can't come inside—"

"Don't know why, though," Allison points out.

"Well it can't come in our house," Stiles amends with a shrug. "Maybe you should sleep with your crossbow or something."

"It's already underneath our bed," Allison says, shutting down her laptop.

"I can set up some wards before I go," Lydia says, walking over to her purse (on the coffee table) and starting to rifle through it. "I threw some stuff in here when you called, and I remember the designs."

"Cool," Stiles gets up, makes to put his hands in his pockets only to realize as he tries that he's wearing the grey sweatpants he's had for years that don't have any. They're tattered and comfortable and one time he came home early from a photo-shoot in LA and Derek was using them as a pillow.

Stiles has a picture of it on his phone.

"Call if anything happens?" Allison punches him in the shoulder as she walks to the front door.

"Rephrase that," Scott says, "if anything happens that requires our immediate attention. Maybe wait a couple of hours if you're just scared or something, dude. I've got a crazy surgery schedule tomorrow."

"See this?" Stiles holds up his sprained finger. "Right there, buddy. Right there."

"A-huh," Scott says, seemingly unimpressed, walking out the door behind Allison, patting his pockets to make sure he has everything. "Night, douche-head."

"Night, asshole. See you… later. Eventually. If I don't die."

"No one's going to die," Derek kicks at his shin, slow enough that he manages to dodge, and then follows Lydia outside as she stalks out onto the porch, hands full of… whatever she uses to make wards. Back when she first got started, she had used wolfsbane, but she's since modified and added and now it's like… licorice and thyme and some weird ass mineral she imports from a black market set up in rural Russia.

Stiles stays out of it, mostly because he doesn't know Russian. Which… which reminds him…

"Did you recognize the accent? Or, the language." Stiles follows Derek outside and watches as Lydia starts scribbling symbols in rapid, jerky movements, her face furrowed in concentration, her red nails in bright contrast against the deep-black of the chalk she's using to write.

It's past twilight, dark enough that everything is purple and dark blue and, in the shadows, black, making everything very… eerie. Stiles hates eerie.

"No," Lydia says, just as Derek's hand comes up to rub at the back of Stiles's head, palming at the nape of his neck in circles that make Stiles lean back into the touch. "It sounded… it sounds familiar, but it's not Latin, and it sounds… old, ancient, not like anything I've heard."

"Okay," Derek say, "If you find anything, call me."

"Well, tonight I'm going to sleep," Lydia says primly, eyeing Derek until he nods, then turning back to her scribbles. "But I've got nothing better to do at work, so I'll do some research tomorrow."

"Aren't you… like, inventing time travel or something?" Stiles asks. "At work."

"No, I'm calculating the amount of anti-ma—that's not important. I'll call you when I find something."

"But not tonight," Derek says.

"Not tonight," Lydia agrees. She finishes scribbling on the door frame and takes a step back just as the design glows a brilliant white for half a second, then fades into the wood itself.

"That is so fucking cool," Stiles says.

"Says the spark," Lydia mocks. Stiles makes a face at that, because he's always been bothered by the whole spark thing. Too prophetic for him. Not his shtick. "The one. The catalyst, Stiles, that starts all the shit all the time."

"It's 'be-mean-to-Stiles night,' isn't it?" Stiles asks, and, like ducklings, he and Derek follow Lydia back into the house and watch her collect her purse.

"I haven't been mean to you," Derek points out.

"No, you've just been giving me long unreadable looks, sighing loudly and dramatically," Stiles says, turning to grin at him. "That's worse. So much worse, buddy."

"Oh god, I'm getting out before you jump each other," Lydia holds up her hands, palms out, and shakes her head as she walks out the open door and closes it behind her. Or really, this is Lydia, so it's more like she slams it closed, just to show them she disapproves of any display of affection in front of her.

"Rude," Stiles says. "All of my friends are crazy and rude… and werewolves. Also," he adds, just as Derek opens his mouth to say something—from the look on his face, and the way his eyebrows are almost at his hairline, it's something snarky. "I'm calling dad. You should make dinner."


"It's not like you're going back to work…" Stiles blinks. "Or, I mean, are you? That's all right if you are—"

"No, I'm not," Derek says, sounding insulted that Stiles would even consider it. "I'll make sandwiches, you call."

"I want—"

"I know what you want on your sandwich, asshole. I'm always the one that makes them," Derek grumbles, already turning to walk towards the kitchen. Stiles feels a little jump in his chest—excitement and happiness and contentment—because it's always the little things that remind him he's got it pretty good.

"I love you!" Stiles calls after him, grabbing his phone from the coffee table.

"I know!" Derek yells from the kitchen, and Stiles feels that little jump again, thinks, for a second, how strange it is that he can be this happy, can be this content, this much in love with someone other than himself, when there's a monster out there that knows his name and apparently eats flesh.

"Dog jokes, Stiles?" Peter asks, leaning against the wall next to him, crossing his arms and leaning forward until his face is mere inches away from Stiles's. God, the guy's creepy. "You're above them."

"No, Peter, I'm really not," Stiles says. "I mean, this is me we're talking about. When have I ever been one to pass up a dog joke?"

Derek and Boyd, who are… wrestling with each other—how fucking frat-boy wannabe can you get, really, Stiles wants to know—are ignoring them, lost in their little game, throwing each other into the shitload of wooden crates that Derek's warehouse (secret lair four of six) is full of. Meanwhile, Stiles is here, next to the creepiest fucker in Beacon Hills.

In the world, probably. Creepiest fucker in the world. Stiles isn't hyperbolizing here. Peter is dead. He should be dead. And yet he's standing here, smirking at Stiles like he knows a secret that Stiles doesn't. Which he probably does. He probably knows a lot of shit that Stiles doesn't, like, oh, what it's like to be dead.

One of the many things Stiles has stopped trying to understand is why Peter is still here. Still in Beacon Hills. Or, better yet, why Derek keeps him around. There's a half-explanation in the whole "because he's pack; because he's family" argument, but there has to be something else—has to be something stronger to keep Derek from kicking the fucker out of town. Guilt? Shame? A severe case of separation anxiety?

"Your jeep smells like you got lucky at college," Peter says, and Stiles's skin breaks out in disgusted goosebumps. He manages to keep his face neutral, though, even though he feels… violated. "More than lucky, actually. I'm proud of you. Getting out there… kind of a,"—Peter pauses, looks off into the distance, and then his smile widens— "kind of just putting your heart on your sleeve, aren't you?"

"That doesn't make sense, why does—" Stiles blinks, narrows his eyes, tries to unsee the connection between the dead body and Peter's sudden increase in creepiness. Peter had mentioned the heart thing purposefully, either to mess with him or… fuck, probably just to mess with him. "What do you want?"

"A lot, Stiles," Peter says with a shrug. "Too much. Also…" he leans forward, and his hand comes up, musses with Stiles hair… except it's slow, creepy, and Stiles can't pull away fast enough. "Your hair looks good."

Derek throws Boyd into a particularly large stack of wooden crates, and Stiles takes a good three steps back. "You… you been running in the woods lately, Peter?" Stiles asks, and for a split-second, he thinks he sees something like rage flash in Peter's eyes, but then it's gone, replaced by a slightly-amused smirk.

"I've been to visit Derek, why?"

"Haven't seen you around," Stiles says. "Have you been helping with the dead bodies?"

Peter looks at him, eyes narrowed in thought, and then he smiles. "In a way, yes, I've been helping, Stiles."

Dinner ends up being only half-eaten, because Derek apparently (no, this is old news, Stiles doesn't know why he's surprised) finds potentially life-threatening situations an aphrodisiac. He pulls Stiles up from where he's sitting on one of the stools at the kitchen bar, sandwich and pretzels on his plate in front of him, and licks into his mouth, mumbling about too much mustard and pepper jack cheese. Derek's hands are hot, pressing hard into the skin at Stiles's back, kneading into the muscle in some kind of affirmation, and god does it feel good.

Stiles is hungry, but since he doesn't think he'll ever get enough of Derek, and truthfully finds potentially life threatening situations just as much of a turn on as Derek does, he's one hundred percent onboard with the idea of an abandoned dinner. The problem is, though, that Derek's kisses are slow and languid, wet and almost searching. Whenever Stiles tries to make it harder, make it more desperate, speed up the proceedings so both of them can get naked as quick as possible, so he can feel Derek's skin, hot and velvet smooth against his, Derek ignores him, slows it down even more, does ridiculous little things that make Stiles's chest ache (like cradle Stiles's head in his hands, rub the pads of his thumbs over Stiles's ears, press light chaste kisses down the ridge of Stiles's nose and across his cheekbones, whisper soft half-sentences that leaves Stiles shaky and unable to come up with a response that's not even more corny).

It's heady, it's too much, it's fucking distracting, so Stiles can't do anything but go along as Derek herds him up the stairs, laughing at the inane things Derek says as he does so—how Stiles is an idiot, how Derek is getting too old for this shit, how they should invest in some bulletproof windows for the next time some crazy monster starts to go ape-shit on them. Somehow, they end up in the shower, the bandage over Stiles's calf and the splint over his finger only half-forgotten, more like ignored in favor of better things. Their clothes form a trail from the kitchen to the bathroom, ripped off between increasingly fervent kisses until both of them are naked and Derek stops sniffing at Stiles's skin like he smells something off.

And then everything is hot and steamy, and Stiles has his legs wrapped around Derek, his back against warm tile as water sluices down his skin. He has one hand in Derek's hair, gripping and pulling, the other yanking at his own dick as Derek fucks up into him and sends buzzing lines of pleasure up his spine. He's kissing Derek, keeping it slow, hot, wet and open-mouthed because yeah, at first Stiles was all for a quick fuck, but now it's different, now he's all for the way Derek's cock is thrusting up into him slow and steady, almost infinitesimal movements that make Stiles gasp against Derek's lips one second and beg for more in the next.

When Stiles comes, he hits his head against the tile behind him, squeezing his eyes against the buzzing pleasure that streaks through him, that spreads from his balls up his dick, to where Derek is in him, up the length of his spine, to the bursts of bright color he sees on the insides of his eyelids. He goes slack for a bit, but he doesn't drop because Derek just pins him against the wall, suddenly desperate, his movements jerky as he steps closer so that their chests are flush against each other. Stiles kisses him, devours the whines that come from the back of Derek's throat, the little huffs of breath that he lets out that have always fascinated Stiles. Derek comes muttering curse words, choking out a laugh and resting his forehead against Stiles's chin. He collapses against Stiles, holding them both up with his forearms brace against the tiles, and breathes in and out against Stiles's skin. It's familiar, it's heady, it's amazing, and if Stiles wasn't exhausted, he would probably be up for round two.

"Shower sex," Stiles says, shivering as Derek's dick slips out of him, unwrapping his legs from Derek's waist to lean—his knees are weak, but fuck does he feel sated, dopey even; doesn't even care about the broken window or the crazy monster or… anything other than Derek, really—against the wall. "Best thing, or best thing?"

Derek grins and nods, his arms coming around Stiles's waist. He mouths something against Stiles's shoulder, biting at the skin, pressing slow, wet kisses from his neck down, and Stiles doesn't even have to hear it to know what it is.

"I know," he says, embracing the corniness.

Eventually, they get to the bedroom, after Derek re-does the bandages over Stiles's calf and then re-splints his finger, kisses him sweet and slow while he's still sitting on the counter. And then it's just a matter of ignoring the existence of yet another monster that is out to get him so Stiles can fall asleep.

It doesn't take that long, considering. An hour, at most. Stiles credits it to not being alone, to having Derek's arm over his back while Stiles lays on his stomach. It's a comforting weight; something normal and constant that makes it easier to not think about anything else.

So, he falls asleep, and he wakes up maybe three hours later to the sound of his phone going nuts.

Derek is still out cold, so Stiles has to crawl over him to get to where both of their phones are plugged in on the nightstand. He doesn't know why he doesn't just plug his phone in on his side; maybe he does it this way so there's less of a chance he has to answer late night phone calls like this.

… although Derek, once he goes down, is a ridiculously heavy sleeper, so maybe that's flawed logic.

"Whazzit?" Stiles asks.

"India!" Lydia all but screeches, and Stiles whimpers, holds the phone away from his ear. He's still half on top of Derek, so Stiles can feel it when he starts to wake up; the slight tensing of Derek's muscles, the change in breathing, the way his hand grabs at air in surprise and then slowly unclenches.

"India what?" It's too late—early—for this shit. He's also still half asleep, and Derek is warm under him, and he just wants to go back to sleep, let it wait until tomorrow.

"The monster's accent! Hindu! I mean, it... it is Hindu, and it speaks Sanskrit!" Lydia interrupts, and now Stiles is awake. He scrambles off of Derek, looks around for his laptop, realizes he left it in the kitchen, and curses the air-conditioning as he runs downstairs in his briefs.

"Did you look it up in the bestiary?" He half trips on the rumpled rug in front of the stairs, then skids into the kitchen and opens his laptop, already typing as he asks.

"No, I just—I'm doing it now. I've been playing that fucking video over and over for the last five hours, and it's just been annoying, you know?"

"It's three in the morning," Stiles says. "I was asleep, like normal people."

"And while it didn't sound like ancient Latin," Lydia continues over him, "the language and the accent did sound like something ancient, and something I've encountered before. So I started looking at dialects online, and I wasn't getting anywhere, and then I realized, you idiot, that you were in India for more than three months!"

Stiles makes a noise of approval, types 'Hindu' into the bestiary, presses enter, and waits while it searches.

"That explains a fuckload," he says. "Although not really."

"Stiles," she says, voice high. "What do you know about… rakshasas?"

"Is that what it is?" There are five queries now; the rakshasa is the top one. He clicks on it, starts reading, and gets increasingly freaked out. "Fuck," he says. "That's it. Fuck, Lydia you… you're genius."

"That's been established," Lydia says, then groans. "Although I can't believe we didn't think about it sooner—you're the only one that's been out of the country all year!"

"Yeah…" Stiles isn't even going to try to defend himself against that one. Or, well maybe he can blame the panic and fear. Yeah, it was panic and fear that made him forget the most obvious factor in this whole fucking mystery.

Or he's just losing his touch, whatever.

The rakshasa, the bestiary reads, is an unrighteous spirit, a reincarnation of a wicked human, ancient and petty. So, definitely not alive, then. It has forms in both Hinduism and Buddhism, but since Lydia recognized it because it spoke Sanskrit, Stiles is going to assume that it's of the Hindu-subset. Unless… no, it's from India. He was in India; that connection can't be just a fucking coincidence. There are various origin myths, but none of that is really important. The important part comes after.

Rakshasas are known for desecrating graves, and what happened earlier tonight, to that nameless girl, that was definitely a form of desecration. Bloody, savage, monstrous desecration. They possess humans, feed on human flesh and spoiled food. They're shapeshifters, illusionists, capable of hiding in plain sight, capable of becoming fucking invisible. All of it is ringing way too many fucking bells in Stiles's head, and he sits down, hard, on one of the stools at the bar, hunches over as he reads.

"You're reading this, right Lydia?" he asks.

"I'm reading it and—oh holy hell," she breaks off, mutters something that Stiles doesn't catch under her breath. Panicked, he starts reading quicker, skimming over the words, and then—

"You have got to be kidding me," he says. Behind him, there's a clatter as Derek trips over the rug in front of the stairs. They should probably tape it down or something. Maybe throw it out. Replace it with—

"What's happening?" Derek asks, walking up and putting a warm hand at the small of Stiles's back. In answer, Stiles starts reading the portion of the bestiary that makes this entire thing just one step closer to ridiculous.

"The American cable network television show Supernatural referenced the rakshasa in season two, episode two, Everybody Loves a Clown," he starts, unable to keep from choking out a laugh. Behind him, Derek tenses. "The lore for the episode has been deemed… somewhat accurate. Lydia, Lydia this is ridiculous."

"I know, Stiles," Lydia snarls.

"They can't enter a home without being invited," Derek reads, leaning over Stiles's shoulder, probably choosing to ignore the whole 'my-life-is-literally-a-television-show' crisis that Stiles is having.

"Two paragraphs down," Lydia says, "after the lore—look at methods of disposal."

Stiles looks, and looks some more because the initial look turns out to be confusing, and then when he gets it—when the pieces fit together—he laughs and laughs and laughs until Derek wrenches the laptop away from him with a disgruntled sigh to read it.

"The rakshasa's skin is impermeable to all weapons except knives made of pure brass," Derek reads. "I don't—"

"The lamp," Stiles says, gestures towards the living room where said-lamp is already back on the side table next to the sofa. "The lamp, Derek, is made of pure brass. The one Miranda got us. The one I hit it with. The one that made it scream and then run off with its metaphorical tail between its legs?"

"Fuck," Derek says, sitting down on the chair next to Stiles. His briefs aren't doing anything to cover his dick; if anything, the grey fabric is like… caressing it. Tenderly. Like Stiles wants to do with his mouth— "That was… that was lucky, Stiles."

"Yeah, no shit," Stiles says. "At least we know for sure that it can't come in the house now. That's a relief."

"Did you ever watch this episode?" Lydia asks, and Stiles shakes his head.

"Nope," he says. "I'll put it on my to-do list."

"It's three in the morning," Derek points out. "Can we just— " he says, looks at Stiles beseechingly, "Can we just go back to bed?"

Hah, maybe Derek has finally cracked.

"Should we tell Scott?" But Stiles is already standing, closing his laptop with one hand, still holding his phone up with the other. "Erica? Boyd? Isaac?"

"Tomorrow," Derek grunts, then turns and walks back up the stairs.

"Huh," Stiles says.

"I'll call them. Allison will want to know," Lydia says. "And now I can't sleep. We'll figure this out tomorrow… although after work, because I've got—"

"Shit to do, I know," Stiles says. "Maybe it just hitched a ride over here with me—I mean, we're assuming that it came from India, right? Not that it was here, and like, smelled the India on me when I—"

"Tomorrow, Stiles," Lydia growls, and then she hangs up.

Stiles doesn't bring his laptop with him when he goes upstairs, but he does put his cell phone on his nightstand, instead of Derek's. Which is an improvement, because now if someone calls in the middle of the night he won't have to crawl over Derek to answer it.

Or wait, maybe that's not an improvement.

"So it's a rakshasa," Derek says, just as Stiles is wondering how subtle he's going to have to be if he wants to sneak his phone back to Derek's side.

"Yeah," Stiles says. "Hindu evil spirit, apparently."

"And it followed you back from India," Derek continues.

"That's probably the most likely explanation, yes." Stiles flops down with a sigh, starfishes out until his foot is over Derek's calf and his hand is splayed in the middle of Derek's chest.


"Okay, yes, I'm pretty sure this latest monster is my fault," Stiles says.

"It's not your fault," Derek says. "That's not what I was going to say."

"Oh." Stiles looks over, grins until Derek smiles back and cards his fingers through Stiles's hair. "What were you going to say?"

"If you noticed anything strange while you were in India," he says.

"Ah, right, " Stiles says. He thinks back, but all he's remembering are long hours and strained muscles and a lot of running and sweating. When you're filming a movie—especially one like Grenwald Proxy, where the production is huge and everything is harried and fast and exhausting—you don't really notice a lot outside of what you need to. Or, well, Stiles doesn't. Didn't. Maybe he should have. "No, not really. I mean, you were there. It gets pretty overwhelming; lots of people, really hot."

"Yeah." Derek's hand is still in his hair, his fingers raking back and forth, and Stiles closes his eyes, leans into it. "Kind of hard to keep track of everything. Were you near any… graves, though? Temples?"

"The Taj Mahal. We were in Agra, remember? But that's like—"

"Ridiculous," Derek says, sighing. "Yeah, but our lives are pretty ridiculous."

"Ridiculously awesome," Stiles corrects.

"Right," Derek says, obviously just playing along. Stiles looks over and sees that Derek's expression is one of wariness and exhaustion. The kind of exhaustion that comes from getting reminded of something you'd rather not be reminded of. Stiles hates that expression, hates that Derek always goes there—always goes back to the guilt and the shame and the hatred—but it's not like he can force him to do anything else. He just has to… make the rest of it better.

"You're in a committed relationship with an A-list actor," Stiles points out, and that gets the corner of Derek's mouth to quirk upwards. "I'm vomit-worthy rich; that's pretty awesome."

"I'd be vomit-worthy rich without you, anyway," Derek says.

"Yeah, but you never spend it," Stiles says. "And I'm slightly more rich than you, dude, so—"

"Slightly," Derek says.

"Millions of people want a piece of this," Stiles says. "They send me locks of their hair—"

"No one has ever sent you locks of their hair," Derek sighs.

"Okay, but they could be thinking about sending me locks of their hair. And they send me weird stuff; the toe nails, come on. Don't tell me you haven't read the stuff they write about me. The fanfiction itself is like, NC-17 shit."

"I've never—"

"Liar," Stiles says, laughing when Derek shoves a hand at his face. "You read everything. When I was in India you watched all my movies. Bet you go on my fansite and watch those grainy videos people upload of me. I bet whenever you're really desperate you re-watch our Skype conversations."

"Like you don't listen to the police scanner just to hear my voice," Derek says after a long pause, and… and well Stiles can't argue with that.

"I think Peter's the one killing people," Stiles says, and Derek and Scott, who have been arguing over the latest 'plan' to find the killer—something about bait, and the high school, and lots of unnecessary evasive maneuvers—turn to face him simultaneously, wearing matching expressions of confusion, and if Stiles wasn't so freaked out about this, so tired and angry and tense, he would find it funny.

"That—" Derek says, or more like chokes out, his eyes flashing with something Stiles can't recognize, his jaw working, clenching and unclenching, as he tamps down on whatever emotion he's feeling. "Why do you think?"

"He's been acting weird," Stiles says.

"He always acts weird. It's Peter, Stiles," Scott says. "Proof, dude."

"He keeps bringing up hearts around me," Stiles continues. "Whenever I ask him what he's been doing for the past week he lies—I know when he lies—and he—"

"Dude, that pretty much sounds like Peter. Why would he be killing random people in the middle of the forest? Ripping their hearts out? Leaving claw marks on their chests?"

"Dude," Stiles says, "why does Peter do anything? He's fucking nuts. I don't know."

"We should… make sure," Derek says, after a long pause where all of them just stare at each other. Stiles in frustration, Scott in doubt, Derek in… Stiles doesn't know what that expression is, but it's nothing positive. Guilt, shame, hesitation, disbelief… something along those lines. "We've jumped to conclusions before, and it's never turned out how we thought. We'll look at Peter, but we need to look at all the other options too. It didn't even smell like Peter around any of bodies, Stiles, so… I mean we need more proof."

Stiles doesn't like that Derek sounds perfectly logical; it makes him feel stupid, panicky, paranoid. "Fine," he says. "Fine, yeah, that's good. We'll keep looking for potential killers, and I'll look into Peter, all right? And I'll tell you if I find anything."

"Yeah," Derek says.

Nothing happens for three days.

Which… Stiles shouldn't really be surprised, should he? That's how these things go; everyone gets all worked up, gets ready to kick some monster ass, defy the horror movie stereotype and then… and then nothing happens. No suspicious deaths, no grave desecrations, no creepy fuckwads standing in front of Stiles's living room window hissing his name in an ancient language. Nothing.

Lydia sends everyone the updated bestiary files on the rakshasa at some god-awful hour in the morning, because when Stiles wakes up at eight (Derek never gets out of bed quietly; Stiles thinks he does it on purpose) the e-mail is already in his inbox, along with a couple of responses from Scott and Allison, both of which have a lot of capslock and keyboard smashing.

So, Derek goes to station, in charge of telling dad what the creature is, and Stiles, being the only one of the them that doesn't actually have anywhere to go, gets dressed in a hoodie, baseball cap and sunglasses, and drives to the hardware store in Derek's truck to buy anything and everything made of pure brass.

He finds pipes, lots of brass pipes, and he buys them all, brings them back to the house and dumps them on the front porch. They need sharpened, because the bestiary had been pretty explicit about the rakshasa needing to be stabbed in order to be killed, but it's a start.

Like Stiles said, though, nothing happens for three days.

They sharpen the pipes; everyone takes a couple home with them in case they hear of anything suspicious. Stiles fixes the window on the second day; goes to the hardware store again, gets caught by a couple of fans and takes pictures with them in front of the paint samples. They ask him what he's building and he says it's just a personal project. Something to keep him occupied while he waits for the press stuff to start for the Grenwald Proxy.

Which is not a lie, technically.

Everything is normal, and that just makes it worse. Because they all know something is not normal, that something is abnormal, that something is out there, wants to hurt them, make their lives a clusterfuck of weird and terrifying for no apparent reason. At least, not one that Stiles can think of. Lydia keeps saying it's the supernatural version of a fan going overboard. Scott is sticking with the Alpha-theory. Boyd has said, repeatedly, every time Stiles e-mails him, that he doesn't care. Stiles is trying to stave off the nail-biting boredom by thinking of different reasons. Like… maybe the rakshasa just wants to fuck with them for a while. Maybe it got bored back in India, latched onto him because… fuck knows the reason, and is just here to be an evil son of a bitch.

… actually that's probably what it's here to do.

For three days, nothing happens, and then on the third day, a pair of college kids up from Berkeley find a body in the woods four miles from the house.

Half a body, Derek corrects, when he calls Stiles from the crime scene. The upper half—male, this time, his left arm chewed off with blunt molars, the skin on his chest peeled off the muscle and bone—with no sign of the lower half. When Derek talks, his voice is low, monotone—a cop's voice—but Stiles knows it gets to him. He can hear the undercurrent of frustration and anger, the temptation to run and follow the scent, hunt the fucking thing down, even though the only time Erica and Isaac tried, it didn't get them anywhere.

"So," Stiles says, "anything weird?"

"Other than the body?" Derek asks with a snort. "Nothing visible, no. It smells the same as the graveyard. Like… death and something else. I guess the rakshasa. Putrid, almost."

"A dead body smells like death?" Stiles asks. "Wow, real shocker, Der-bear."

"Fuck off, Stiles," Derek says, but he's laughing. "Isaac and Erica are headed to the house—"

"For protection? Cool, I guess." Stiles is already in the kitchen—had been sitting at the table, going over the schedule Joan just sent him for next month (a couple photo shoots, three interviews, two red carpet events)—and as he talks he gets up, grabs one of the brass pipes that they had been keeping on the kitchen counter, and shoves it in the back pocket of his jeans.

"Boyd and Scott are scouting the woods," Derek continues. "Lydia says she's not planning on leaving her house any time soon—"


"And Allison is at work; said she has a brass pipe in her bag—"

"—that makes it sound like we smoke weed. Do people smoke weed out of brass pipes, Derek?"

"I don't know," Derek answers. "Everyone is fine. I'll be here the rest of the day. Probably be home around seven."

"Dinner will be on the table, honey bunches," Stiles jokes. "I'll be sure to deep clean the house too—and you hung up, okay."

There's probably something that Stiles could do, instead of just sitting in his kitchen waiting for Isaac and Erica to come play human-sitters. Something like… take a more active role. Go out and search for the fucking thing. But fuck, that sounds so… difficult. Especially since, unlike previous incidents, the bestiary had said nothing about the rakshasa's natural environment (Supernatural did, but Stiles isn't going to go there)—is it in the woods? Is it in town? Fuck, is it possessing a human right now? Waiting to strike?

Stiles doesn't know. No one knows (at least, no one alive knows), and, truthfully everyone is too busy being normal—living human lives that have strangely little to do with the supernatural—to dedicate their days to hunting and killing the latest big bad. It's kind of hilarious, actually, how enthusiastic all of them are at pretending to be completely normal. They almost—including Stiles—approach it with a kind of dogged determination. Maybe in the hopes that if they try hard enough, start decreasing the amount of time spent thinking about all the shit out there that wants to kill them, they'll stop having to work these types of things into their schedules.

He doesn't know what he thinks about that. Whether he—they—should feel guilty for not being the line of defense between the dark and the light. Or, well, that's kind of dramatic. The… the mediator between things that want to kill people for supernatural reasons and the people they want to kill. Better. More specific.

Back in high school, they had all had hero complexes. Destructive hero complexes and it had shown. And this… this is half them burned out from those tense years, and half them just knowing what the hell they're doing now.

When Isaac and Erica walk in, he's back on his laptop, sending an e-mail to Joan because if not she's going to start calling him and he really doesn't need that right now. They grunt their hellos, and then Erica goes in the fridge and gets out the takeout containers from last night—Chinese.

"Did you guys smell anything?" Stiles closes his laptop after he sends the e-mail, stands up and leans against the table to watch them raid the fridge. "See anything? Sense anything strange and out of place?"

"I am so confused about this whole…" Erica gestures in a circle and shrugs. "This whole thing. So don't ask me. I'm just here to snarl at anything that rings a nonexistent doorbell and cackles at you in an Indian accent."

"Sanskrit," Isaac corrects. "Ancient Sanskrit accent. And same. Hopefully Scott and Boyd find it in the woods, kill it, and then we can all just… forget about it."

"Wow, yeah, great plan, why didn't I think of that?" Stiles says, grins when Isaac just gives him a look.

"You didn't, though, think of that," Erica points out, pulling out one of the bar stools and sitting. "Derek did. Apparently there's a chance that this raka… the raksa… the thing has an obsession with you, so we're here in case it decides to come eat your hot little ass."

"It can't come inside. Also thank you. I do have a hot ass."

"Yeah," Isaac says, doing that thing with his mouth that's like… half a grin, and half him pursing his lips. It's weird. "We know it can't come in, but if it shows up, we can just chase it and kill it."

"Right," Stiles says. "Like I couldn't do that."

"We have a better chance," Erica says, eyes him. "I mean, physically."

"What the fuck is that supposed to mean?"

"We've got brass pipes," Isaac shoves his hand in the pocket of his leather jacket, holds up his sharpened pipe. "And quick reflexes. And I watched that episode of Supernatural that the rakshasa was on. I'm pretty prepared, actually."

"Rakshasa," Erica says, rolling the word around in her mouth. She turns to Isaac. "You watched it? I didn't. Is there—"

"It has clowns," Stiles says. He watched it yesterday. It had been… enlightening. "The rakshasa turns into a clown and gets little kids to let it in their houses so it can kill their parents."

"… spoilers," Erica says, mouth full of what looks like chow mein.

"The rakshasa was the blind dude. Also they killed it with an organ pipe or something, in the fun house," Isaac says. He pauses, squints his eyes. "Don't they kill werewolves on that show?"

"Yeah but the mythology is all fucked up," Stiles says, "so no worries there."

"But they got this one right, or right-ish? I know they said something about it living in squalor, but we haven't been able to find, like, a nest or something," Erica says. "

"Yeah," Isaac says, not sounding impressed at all. "I still think it's weird that we're taking monster-killing advice from a cable TV show."

"Actually," Stiles says, "we're taking monster-killing advice from the Argent bestiary. And… they took monster-killing advice from a TV show."

"Even better," Isaac says.

"Loads better," Stiles says. "There's like, a buffer of credibility in there. A line of separation."

Erica snorts at that, rolls her eyes. "You've been waiting to use that, haven't you?"

"Since I watched the fucking thing," Stiles admits. Erica rolls her eyes again; Isaac nods and reaches for one of the takeout containers on the counter, starts shoving broccoli in his mouth.

Eventually, Stiles gives up and takes his laptop into the living room. He tries to concentrate on work, but after an hour of just staring at the screen he starts watching Futurama on Netflix, for no other reason that it was the first thing suggested.

Another hour passes, and somehow Erica joins him on the couch and gets him to switch from watching Futurama on his laptop to watching it on the TV. Isaac… it sounds like Isaac is still in the kitchen, typing something on the laptop that Stiles didn't even know he brought. Probably a psych eval or something for one of his kids; maybe an e-mail. Stiles doesn't know, and he's in too much of a TV-coma to care.

Except then Allison calls.

"Stiles!" She sounds bright and happy and not like Allison at all. There's not even a shred of sarcasm in the way she says his name, and usually… usually there's at least a smidge. So immediately, Stiles knows something is off.

"Allison!" he says back, making his voice sound equally as excited. Maybe Scott and Derek are in trouble. Maybe Lydia is in trouble. Maybe she's in trouble. Maybe she found out something about the rakshasa. Maybe the world's ending.

"Hey," she says, and then she clears her throat. "I'm at the gate. Let me in."

Oh fuck. Oh fuck. Maybe… maybe she's possessed. They can do that, right? He remembers readings that the rakshasa can possess humans. Or fuck, maybe she is the rakshasa, maybe—

"Oh yeah sure," he hears himself say. He hits Erica on the shoulder, hard, and holds a hand up when she snarls at him. Somehow, through a combination of frenzied hand movements, angry pointing, and significant looks, he manages to tell her that something is wrong. Then he remembers his laptop, opens a word document, and types out what's happening in all caps. Erica's face contorts as she reads; first in confusion, then anger, then she wolfs out. "Sorry, I'm in the office—" he doesn't have an office; doesn't need a fucking office. "—just let me get to the door so I can let you in."

"Sounds great!" Not-Allison says, and this time, when she speaks, the way she says "s" is scarily familiar. He gets up, kicks Erica in the shin because fuck, and mouths at her to call Derek or Scott or Boyd or… someone.

She nods, rushes into the kitchen to get Isaac, and Stiles walks on shaky legs over to the console that controls the gate by the front door to open it. Not-Allison hangs up then, and he watches through the window—the window on the door, not the window that he just recently fixed (and shit, the fucker better not break it again, or they will have words)—as Allison's car (why does it have Allison's car; where's Allison? Someone should call Allison) goes slowly up the driveway and parks behind Stiles's Ferrari.

When she climbs out, she looks like Allison—more than Not-Derek had looked like Derek three days ago—but she's walking strangely. Too fluid, too controlled, too something for her to actually be Allison.

"It's here, right?" Isaac says from behind him, and he doesn't jump that much, considering that his heart-rate is through the roof, and he's breathing short, shallow breathes that make it obvious how panicked he is, even if his mind is taking a while to catch-up so he can start freaking out.

"Yeah," Stiles says. "I'm pretty sure that's it."

"Erica's calling Scott and Derek," Isaac says, and his hand comes up to rest on Stiles's shoulder, squeezes to get his attention. "They're not answering, though. What do we do?"

"I don't—" Stiles cuts himself off as Not-Allison reaches the porch steps, looks up, and their eyes meet. "Fuck. Okay. This is so fucking ridiculous, you know that, right?"

"I'm aware," Isaac says, his voice not quite yet a whisper, but softer now that the rakshasa is climbing the steps (achingly slowly, it seems). "Do we kill it?

"No, we have a fucking dinner party with it," Stiles says. "Of course we kill it! Just… let me— don't let on that we know yet."

"I can smell it. I think it knows I can smell it."

"Then… go in the kitchen. Listen in. Wait—"

"Why can't we just kill it?" Isaac whispers, even as Stiles reaches for the doorknob.

"Curiosity?" Stiles offers. "Also, maybe it's just possessing Allison. Make sure Allison is at home, then we can stab it."

"Got it," Isaac says, and then he's gone, and Stiles is opening the door.

The last person Stiles expects to see when he opens the door is Peter. Because a) Peter has been a no-show for the two weeks since they found that first body—the one that was missing a heart and slashed with claws obviously of werewolf origin—in the woods, b) Stiles didn't even know Peter knew where his house was, and c) Stiles is pretty sure it's Peter that's responsible for the body in the first place, plus the three they've found since then.

(All of the bodies have been found heartless, all of their chests clawed into grizzled shreds of meat and sinew.)

Of course, it's not like Stiles was expecting anyone else at his front door anyway. Scott is off being frenemies with Derek, doing what the two of them do best—circling each other and making grand schemes and shit—and the rest of the wolves are… fuck Stiles doesn't even know where everyone is.

He's been so caught up in doing his own stuff—trying to look into Peter without it seeming like he's looking into Peter—that he's been holed up in his room for days.

"Peter," he says, and tries not to sound too squeaky. Doesn't work, though.

"Stiles," Peter says. "Have I mentioned that you're getting muscular lately? I noticed it when we talked last time."

"There's a free gym on campus," Stiles says, after a pause. "They're open twenty-fours hours. I go when I can't sleep. What do you want, Peter?"

"Oh, that's a dangerous question, Stiles," Peter says, and he takes a step towards him. "So much of what I want is already dead."

"Are you… here for any reason other than to creep me out?" Stiles asks, and his heart stutters as Peter lays a hand on his shoulder, squeezes hard. He hopes this is just Peter being terrifying, and not what he thinks it is. He really hopes. Fuck; his cell phone is up in his room. There are no weapons anywhere within reach—

Why did he open the fucking door? He should know better than this.

"I hear you're majoring in criminology. Do you want to be like your dad, Stiles? A Sheriff? A crime-solver?"

"I don't—"

"Because you're right," Peter continues over him, nonchalant. "I've been killing those people. Taking their hearts. Making little 'x marks the spot' designs on their chests. You'd make a good detective. Better than my nephew, at least."

Stiles's stomach drops, and he takes a step back. Or, he tries to take a step back, except suddenly Peter's grip is much stronger, strong enough that his fingernails—fuck, his claws—are digging into the meat of Stiles's shoulder.

"Wh—why?" Crap, that's not what Stiles meant to ask. He didn't actually mean to ask anything. He meant to scream. His throat isn't cooperating, though. Nothing is, because he should be struggling, right now. He should be fighting or running or something, but he's not.

Peter shrugs. "Revenge?" he offers, and then his hand moves, grips at the side of Stiles's skull, squeezes, once, as if in warning, or maybe he's trying to psych himself up, and then he bashes Stiles's head against the wall.

The room spins, his brain goes fuzzy, everything hurts, and then it's dark. .

"Stiles," Not-Allison says. From the kitchen, Stiles can hear intense whispering and even a couple of snarls, but Isaac and Erica don't jump out. That's good; he doesn't want them to yet.

"Hey, Allison." Stiles tries to keep his voice casual, succeeds by sheer force of will. He leans against the open door, making sure that none of his limbs cross the threshold of the house. "Didn't expect you. Derek said you were at work, uh, still."

Not-Allison's face falls, but only for a split second. "Right," she says. "I was worried about you. The body, you know, and it's not like Derek's going to be back anytime soon, and—Stiles, just let me in. Why are you standing there all… awkward?"

"Uh, you know me," Stiles says. "So awkward."

"Right," Not-Allison grins, and, ah, right there. Her teeth. Too sharp. Not human, not human at all.

Stiles takes a deep breath and a large step away from the door. "You're not Allison," he says, and this time, when Not-Allison's face falls, it stays that way. Stays angry.

"Oh," she—it—says. Isaac and Erica come snarling out of the kitchen then, wolfed out, proverbial hackles raised. The rakshasa takes a step back, and Allison just… melts away. It's disgusting, even though there's no actual melting. The rakshasa's skin sags, folds in on itself, bubbles up in places and then flattens out, turns a sick shade of green and then hardens into not-quite scales. It doesn't have a nose—a la Voldemort—and its eyes glow a radioactive yellow this time; bright and watery and disturbing. It takes less then three seconds, but Stiles can't help it as his eyes track every movement. "That obvious, Stiles?"

"Allison's at work. I don't have an office," Stiles says, even though as he says it, he doesn't really know why he's offering an explanation to the creature that probably wants to, if not kill him, maim him horribly. "What do you want?"

"Why are you talking to it?" Erica is pushing up against his back, snarling in his ear, and Isaac is next to her. They're both holding their brass pipes, the alloy bending under the strength of their grips. A part of Stiles wants them to run outside, go to town on it, and yet… still.

"Why are you here?"

"I followed you," the rakshasa says—hisses—as it grins. Which… doesn't tell him anything at all.

"Yeah, fucker, I know that," Stiles says, takes another step back as the rakshasa raises a hand— glowing hand, fuck—and rests it against the apparent barrier between the outside of the house and the inside.

"Let me in, or come outside, and I'll tell you," the rakshasa says.

"Are you fucking kidding me?" Erica says. "Do you think we're stupid? Does being dead lower IQ or something?"

"This is the house that burned down, isn't it?" the rakshasa asks, its eyes suddenly aglow, and then… fuck, fuck, fuck, Stiles can smell smoke, and he feels the heat of fire all along his back, and Erica and Isaac are screaming behind him, and when he turns around, they're not burning—at least not visibly—but their faces are contorted in pain and—

"Come outside,"—its voice changes, morphs, in the middle of the sentence, turns into something more human, something familiar, something like… Kate. Kate Argent. Oh wow, because that's not cliché, for fuck's sake— "or they die, Stiles Stilinski."

"Seriously?" Stiles asks.

The rakshasa grins, its teeth sharp and a gangrene yellow, and seeing those teeth set in Kate's face is… an experience. "Seriously," it says, and for emphasis, it slowly curls its outstretched hand into a fist; Erica and Isaac scream, and underneath their screams, Stiles can hear the sound of breaking bone.

"Huh," Stiles says. Suddenly, it's kind of impossible to just attack the thing. Not… not because of anything the rakshasa is doing (although, Stiles is pretty sure that the rakshasa doesn't know he has a brass pipe in his pocket, and if it did, there would probably be some… pain on his part) but because his brain is finally catching up to how terrified he is.

They've never dealt with something like this before. Something apparently incorporeal, something that can… do that. Do what it's doing to Isaac and Erica (for some reason, he keeps thinking about the Cruciatus curse). Stiles knows how to deal with the physical, but not… not this. Not the spiritual. Not up against power that's old and evil.

The rakshasa grabs his arm as soon as he steps out, and behind him Erica snarls out a warning, makes to attack past the pain, but the door slams closed before she can get to them. Stiles watches, oddly removed from the situation, as she bangs on it, tries to turn the doorknob, tries to break the windows to get out, but… nothing.

"Werewolves are easier to handle back home," the rakshasa says, and then starts pulling Stiles down the porch steps.

"What do you want?" Stiles feels his back pocket and holds back the sigh of relief when he feels the brass pipe still there. He just… has to wait for the right moment. So that when he does attack, the rakshasa doesn't go invisible. Or shapeshift… or—

The rakshasa's shifting; it's not Kate anymore. It's Derek. And then it shifts again, quick, but still just as disgusting, and this time… it's Peter.

"I'm a fan of your work," it says, and Stiles can't have a panic attack now. It's stupid. It would be stupid to have a panic attack. He knows Peter is dead. Right. Peter is dead, but… but fuck the thing is talking in Peter's voice, in that same fucking terrifying drawl. And his eyes are too close, and Stiles can see the individual pores in his—its—skin, and suddenly it's so realistic, too realistic, way more realistic than either Derek or Kate. A small part of him is trying to be logical; it's the fear that's making it seem more realistic than it is. Maybe it's not even fear, maybe it's the rakshasa being its stupid-ass magical self and casting, like, a glamour over him.

Or something.

But it's only a small, part, really, that's still thinking. The rest of Stiles is frozen, staring wide-eyed, probably open-mouthed, back at Pe—back at the rakshasa. His vision is narrowing so that all he can see is the fucking slant of those eyebrows, and the coldness in those eyes, and—

"That's nice," he hears himself say, even though his voice is more of a squeak. "So, you want an autograph, then?" The rakshasa still has a hand on his arm, and it's squeezing, hard enough to bruise, hard enough that Stiles swears he hears the bone creaking under the weight of its grip.

"I watched you, in Agra. You were doing stunt-work," the rakshasa says, grins a pursed-mouth grin that looks so much like Peter. Way too much like Peter. The scars on Stiles's shoulder and the ones across his chest are aching with phantom pain that he hasn't felt in… a long time. A really long time. "You're a very fast runner."

"I… thank you," Stiles says, and somehow, as he talks, he starts to bring his free arm around, starts groping at his ass to try and grab the pipe in his back pocket. It's harder than it would be usually, mostly because terror has proven his fingers as useful as… as someone with no fingers. "I train, you know, to stay in shape. So I can do stunts and, uh, make my movies more realistic. I think it adds a layer of—"

"I'd like to play a game," the rakshasa interrupts, and internally, Stiles groans, because if it's one thing he hates, it's when people—spirits, evil things, whatever—unknowingly quote lines from movies. Especially when those movies suck.

"All right," Stiles has his hand on the pipe now, and carefully, he starts to pull it out of his pocket. "That sounds horrible, but—"

"You run, and if I catch you, I eat you," the rakshasa says, leaning close, so that Stiles can smell its rancid breath. Oh god, it smells like stale blood and filth and death warmed over, and the combination of that and Peter's face is… something that brings back a lot of memories actually.

Horrible ones. Memories of dimly lit underground parking lots, of blood—his blood—against cold concrete, dripping down his chest, his stomach, of sharp nails digging, deeper and deeper, into his flesh, of helplessness and panic and—

"That's a stupid game," Stiles says. The rakshasa's other arm comes out, grabs at his throat and squeezes until he's gasping for breath. It starts to move towards the gate, and drags him with it.

"Either that," the rakshasa says, "or I burn your house down with your friends inside. And then I just kill you here."

"Why do you want to—" Stiles stops when the rakshasa squeezes down, hard, on his throat, tears springing to his eyes at the pain and panic that comes with not being able to breathe. He's been on the edge of a panic attack for minutes, hours, days, years, eons even, and he doesn't know why he hasn't given in yet. Why he's even this coherent.

"You've watched that horrible show, haven't you? I bet you have," the rakshasa says. "Making a mockery of us, of what we do."

"It was pretty accura—" more squeezing. Stiles doesn't know how its grip keeps getting tighter, but it does.

"A suggestion of what we can do, merely a suggestion," it says, and then shifts again—thank fucking god—and this time Stiles is looking at himself. And that… that's actually kind of hilarious. Hilarious enough to quell the panic, or at least some of it. "I tend to be more selective in my targets. We only eat every thirty years or so, Stiles, so I go for quality, not quantity."

"So the two other people you killed?" Stiles can't help spitting out.

Not-him shrugs, and shoves him out of the gate onto the private road that Stiles had re-paved last year. "Appetizers," he says. "I wouldn't even be in this… place if you weren't here."

"That… that doesn't sound like a cliché villain at all," Stiles sighs, sarcasm winning over fear. He still has his hand on the brass pipe, is waiting for an opening. Behind him, the house is smoking. There's fire coming from the top story, from their bedroom, and god, god, does he hope its an illusion. Because Erica and Isaac are—

Fuck, someone just needs to come quick. Anyone.

"I was going to kill you back in Agra," the rakshasa says. "But then you had your wolf come up, and I thought it might be time to move on. See different sights; taste different cuisines."

"Not helping with the clichés, dude," Stiles says, eyes the forest to either side of them.

"You run, Stiles, and if I catch you, I eat you."

Stiles chokes out a laugh, because hearing that come out of his own mouth—as bad of a representation of his mouth as it is—is a… a unique experience, for sure.

"Fine," Stiles says, even though it's not fine at all, even though he's not going to run into the fucking woods like some kind of prey. Stiles hasn't been the prey in a long fucking time, and he isn't going to start being prey again any time soon. "Fine, I'll—"

And then there's an arrow embedded in the rakshasa's head—the head that look like his, and it's kind of a trip seeing his own eyes go slack with pain, with death—and Stiles recognizes it as Allison's, even as he reacts, on instinct, and shoves the brass pipe he's been holding into the rakshasa's gut.

There's a sickening squelch, and then everything is a blur, and Stiles comes to five feet away, with Derek kneeling over him, his hands running over Stiles's chest and a wild look in his eyes. Stiles looks over, and sees that Scott has tackled the rakshasa. There's another brass pipe embedded in its neck, and Scott is snarling as he looks down at it. Allison is walking out of the woods, bow and arrow in hand, a pissed off expression on her face.

The rakshasa, meanwhile, is on the asphalt road, snarling, gargling, thrashing its limbs and blinking in and out of focus—there one second, gone the next—reappearing differently each time. As strangers, at first, with random faces that morph into each other in a sickening array of unnatural colors, and then it looks like Kate, and then Peter, and when it finally disappears, shrivels up into ashes, it looks ;ike Stiles. Or, a suggestion of him, at least.

Stiles, idly, hopes there's not a symbolic meaning behind that.

There's a second of inactivity—a pause as everyone re-calibrates their thoughts—and then Derek lets out a shaky sigh, drops his head down on Stiles's chest, starts muttering things too low for Stiles to hear over his own panicked heartbeat.

"The house," Stiles asks. "Is it on—" he stops as he cranes his neck back, looks through the open gate to see Erica and Isaac bursting out of the house (loudly, and he thinks they break the front door off its hinges) and sprinting towards them. The house isn't on fire; there's no smoke, no orange glow. An illusion. "Never mind."

"Fucker stole my car," Allison says, still looking enraged. "What kind of fucking Hindu spirit steals a car?"

Stiles wakes up, and everything hurts. It takes him a second to realize why—his house, Peter, his head slammed into the wall—and a second more for the panic, the fear, the anger, to set in. Except he can't do anything about it; wants to, wants to so much, but there's something… something stopping him.

He can't move, and for fuck's sake something about it is feels so fucking familiar—

"Kanima poison is expensive," Peter says. Stiles can't see him—hasn't opened his eyes since he woke up, because he's pretty sure that if he does, everything will start hurting more—but he can hear him, hear his footsteps echoing against concrete, hear the satisfied lilt to his voice. "I had to get this shipped from Macau. Apparently, there's a sizeable population there. Of Kanimas. Gambling spawns creatures of vengeance; who knew?"

Stiles groans as a wave of pain hits him, intense enough that he wonders if Kanima poison affects the ability to puke.

"Can't talk," Peter says. "Sorry about that. I may have given you a bit more than necessary. Just in case."

Just in case. Asshole. Fuckwad. Damn it.

"So," Peter says, "I guess since you're here—we're in that car garage, do you remember that one, Stiles? When you helped me the first time? We're there. I thought it would be… poetic to end it here, too. Since we're here, I guess I should start explaining why, right? That's proper etiquette, for these types of situations."

Stiles doesn't want to know why. Knowing why would require Peter to be alive to explain it. He wants Peter dead. He wants Peter hacked in two, burned alive, stuck in a fucking meat grinder and—

"I was bored," Peter says, and fuck, that's a lie. Stiles can tell. He opens his eyes, glares up at where Peter is standing in front of him, a silhouette blocking the lights behind him. "Right, of course, you know when I'm lying, don't you?" Peter crouches in a quick movement, one too fast for Stiles to follow, and suddenly his face is inches away from Stiles's, his claws pricking at Stiles's neck. "Explanations are boring anyway. And it's no fun talking to you when you can't talk back."

Peter's eyes are hard. Hard and cold and unfeeling, and Stiles suddenly realizes, with startling clarity, that he's about ninety percent sure he's going to die. His heart thumps at that, and panic clutches at his chest, makes it hard to breath—makes it harder to breathe.

"I figure if I kill you here," Peter says, "it'll take at least a couple of hours for someone to find you."

His finger—pointer—digs into Stiles's shoulder. Digs and digs until the sharp claw punctures skin and Stiles cries out. Peter laughs, the fucker. He laughs, and slowly, fucking painstakingly, slices a line from Stiles's shoulder downward, diagonally, across his heart, his claw scraping against Stiles's sternum as he does so and…

And it's amazing, Stiles thinks numbly, the whole pain mechanism. Peter is digging into Stiles's skin, into his muscles, and all Stiles feels—fuck, he doesn't care if it sounds philosophical, all he is, right nowis pain. Burning, red hot, a sharp ripping sensation all over his body, almost like a buzzing. His entire existence has narrowed down to where Peter's claw is in his skin, and there's nothing he can do about it. He can't speak, can't scream, can only grunt and whine at the back of his throat, cry panicked, silent tears and try, in vain, to arch away from the touch.

It doesn't work; nothing works. The pain keeps coming, the claws keep digging into his skin. Peter keeps staring at him, talking, speaking, but all he can think about is how he's going to die, and how much he doesn't want to.

"I feel like we should get up soon, babe," Stiles says, lying half on the asphalt road in front of their gate, half on the grass median, looking up at the sky and the canopy of trees around them.

"Right," Derek says, lying next to him, glaring up at the same thing. His hand is clutching at Stiles's shirt, and it tightens, then lets go, flattens out over Stiles's sternum. "Sure, just…"

"There's a stick digging into my ass." Stiles sits up, ignoring the second of vertigo that comes with it. His shirt is covered in blood, and his arm, where the rakshasa gripped him, is bruised in the shape of a hand. There are probably matching bruises on his neck, so… no public appearances for a while.


"Well, glad that's over," Stiles says, when Derek just keeps staring up at the sky. Allison and Scott are in the house with Erica and Isaac—they went inside ten minutes ago, and when Stiles had tried to follow them, Derek had given him a look. So here he is, sitting on the ground contemplating the joy of being alive, yet again. "I think I have a supernatural target-sign on my back."

"You think?" Derek grunts, reaching out blindly to grip at Stiles's hand, working his way up until his thumb is at Stiles's pulse, pressing down.

"That's why I just said it, assface," Stiles says. "So why are we out here? Waiting to confirm your undying love for me? Fawn over my amazing monster-bashing skills?"

"Breathing," Derek responds, without any hesitation at all.

"You're so fucking corny," Stiles says. "That could've been in a, crap who wrote those books? The Notebook? Nicholas Spar—"

"I'm allowed to be fucking corny," Derek grits out. "A fucking… rakshasa almost burned my house down—"

"True," Stiles agrees.

"— and almost killed you—"

"Almost," Stiles says, "but I mean, I ganked him—it—with a brass pipe, so…"

"You just used the word ganked," Derek rubs the hand not holding Stiles's wrist over his eyes, maybe groans a little.


"And… holy fuck, Stiles, the next time you go to India to shoot a movie, maybe, I don't know, see if there's a fucking evil spirit following you around?"

"Victim blaming, fucker, you're doing it," Stiles says. "Plus, it said it wasn't going to come back but then it saw you, so…" Stiles leaves the whole part about the rakshasa wanting to eat him in India out, for obvious reasons.

"Right." Derek sighs and stands up. His uniform is dirty and bloodied, and there's probably something wrong with Stiles for that to be a turn on.

"Hey," Stiles starts, clears his throat, and wonders if it's just the adrenaline still running through his system that is making his head feel light. "Do you think we should—"

"Yes," Derek says.

"You don't even know what I was going to ask, dude." Stiles sighs and gets up. "I was wondering if you wanted to—"

"Anything is fine," Derek says, walking through the gate, gesturing with his hand for Stiles to follow.

"Dogs," Stiles says. "We should adopt dogs. Tons of dogs."

"You want to get a dog?" Derek asks, raising an eyebrow, seemingly unimpressed.

"Yeah, dude, a couple," Stiles says, closes the gate behind him. "Big ones. Huge, even. Why, what did you think I was asking?"

"I don't—" Derek clears his throat, looks down at the ground, then up at the house. "Anything, it's the adrenaline, it—"

Stiles is confused, because yeah, he's pretty familiar with adrenaline, and then he starts thinking, cataloguing the expressions on Derek's face, the way he's not quite wincing. He knows Derek—fuck, knows him better than a lot of people—is so in love with him it's kind of terrifying, and he's pretty sure…

"Are you—did you think I was going to ask you to marry—okay, shutting up," Stiles holds his hands out when Derek glares at him, swallows because suddenly his mouth is dry and there's a pleasant swooping in his chest, an excitable buzzing all over his skin, and he kind of… wants. He opens his mouth a couple of times, closes it just as many, gives up and scratches the back of his head in frustration. "That would be… that would be awesome," he finally says, his voice stilted. "I mean, if that's what you thought I was asking. I… would ask you, if you wanted me to. It's probably the adrenaline; I get it."

Derek blinks at him for a couple of minutes, long enough that Stiles cringes, realizes how… quaint, all of this is. How predictable. They don't need something idiotic like marriage. Fuck, marriage is more of a Scott thing; hopelessly romantic, all pomp and circumstance. But then again, there's something tempting about it. Something that makes him want to convince Derek. The thrill of being connected to someone else, maybe.

Oh god, someone kill him now. Or… or fuck it has to be the adrenaline. Shit.

"I would say yes," Derek says, finally, slowly, glancing at the house and glowering, like… oh, probably because they're being eavesdropped on. "If you asked."

"And I would…" Stiles clears his throat, rocks back on his heels. "I would also say yes, if, you know, you asked. Not that marriage is really, I mean necessary, but it's a nice—"

"Sounds good," Derek says, and suddenly he's smiling, taking the step that brings him to stand in front of Stiles.

"This is—"

"—Ridiculous, yes; I know. I think you say it every other fucking sentence," Derek says, leans to rest his forehead against Stiles's.

"I was going to say awesome, but yeah, also ridiculous," Stiles says, and brings his hands up to rest on Derek's jaw. "I mean, kind of vomit-worthy romantic, also—"

"I love you," Derek says—whispers against his lips—and fuck, Stiles is gone. He's gone and he's not coming back. "You're terrifying, and I love you."

Stiles grins, keeps grinning when Derek presses a kiss to the corner of his mouth. So his life in ninety-three percent more likely to become a horror movie cliché than the average twenty-eight year old actor; he gets that. He doesn't give a shit, because, and here's the corn, ladies and gentlemen, Stiles is pretty sure he's more of a romantic comedy type of guy.

Stiles presses forward, grabs Derek's head in his hands, and kisses him until both of them are breathing hard, until he feels giddy with a number of emotions that he can't name, but if he could, would embarrass the fuck out of both of them. "I know," he says.