rallamajoop: (Derek)
[personal profile] rallamajoop
The much-belated crosspost of chapter 5. Not sure I'll bother crossposting new chapters to LJ from here on, since it seem like everyone's reading it on AO3 these days. Basically if anyone would really like to keep seeing updates on LJ, now would be an excellent time to let me know.

Title: Dangerous Things
Characters/Pairing: Stiles/Derek, also some Scott/Allison and Lydia/Jackson
Summary: The Medieval AU where Derek is an incubus and Stiles is so, so far out of his depth right now.
Rating: R (this chapter), NC-17 (over all)
Chapter: 5/?
Word Count: 7,103
Warnings: Dub-con, canon typical violence/horror, discussion of rape
Previous parts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, AO3 link



So that's how Stiles winds up sleeping with an incubus.

He'd tell you it all made sense at the time, but he's not sure who he'd expect to buy it.

It's not as though he hasn't considered the long list of ways in which this is probably a terrible idea. Derek may have denied any active interest in dining on the flesh of nubile virgins, but he's still an unknown quantity at best. Stiles could count on one hand the number of times he's had a straight answer out of Derek on anything down to the most innocuous of questions. ("Should I be eating more, now you're doing this with me all the time? Am I, like, eating for two now?" he'd asked once, when Derek had arrived to find Stiles enjoying one of last year's apples, fished from the bottom of the last barrels in their food stores. "Hey, do you need to eat regular food, or are you sustaining yourself solely on the pleasure of my company?" Derek had glared at him, then stolen Stiles' apple and taken a large, slow bite out of it, holding Stiles' gaze as he swallowed, then licked the juice from his lips; and when he'd tossed the remnant away and climbed into Stiles' space, Stiles had completely forgotten what they'd been talking about.)

Considering Derek's surly attitude to the whole affair, an outside observer could be forgiven for assuming it was Stiles who coerced him into this – and seriously, whatever; Stiles would never have imagined this thing they're doing was even an option until the third time Derek had taken it into his head to crawl in through a window and have his way with the same lowly servant boy. If anything, Derek's intermittent allusions to how Stiles should know better have only been feeding his urge to be contrary. Or maybe, once in a while, even given him the excuse to entertain the fantasy that they're both in this together, and Derek has no more idea what they're doing than he does.

For the record, Stiles does understand the concept of reverse psychology, and yes, he has entertained the thought that Derek's non-specific warnings are part of a long and elaborate set-up that will end with him laughing in Stiles' face when he learns he's inadvertently sold his soul to the devil. But then he remembers that time when Derek went after Kate, and the idea that Derek's capable of anything so diabolically clever sounds like the set up for a joke.

When all else fails, the thought of how hard either of the elder Argents would disapprove of what he's doing with Derek is just about all the justification Stiles needs.

Speaking of whom, that minor issue of how Stiles has yet to successfully lead the hunters to the incubus hasn't discouraged them from trying. Every couple of days, they have him retry his trick with the dagger and ride out to wherever Stiles points them – usually making it home some hours later without so much as a glimpse of a wing-tip to show for the effort. And maybe Stiles isn't entirely innocent on that account, but all considered he's not hugely worried that what little he's done to nudge the odds one way or another is going to get him caught.

("Look, just because I can point you to where he was doesn't mean he's gonna stay there," he'd told them the other night. "Incubi have wings and all, and there's a whole forest out there for him to hide in."

"Oh, our local demon's a 'he' now, is it? Cute," said Kate, raising an eyebrow, but hell if Stiles was going to get caught out on a slip-up that basic.

"I'm pretty sure we're not dealing with a 'she', are we? Yes, he – it's a lot easier to make this work if I think of him as more than just some dumb animal. Like one who's smart enough to move right after our best window for this."

"A convenient excuse," said Chris. "And a very neat way to avoid being questioned on how you can be so sure you're doing this right. It's good to know all those years of hauling water having given you such a keen insight into demonic psychology."

That one got a real eye-roll from Stiles. "If I didn't believe I could do this, you wouldn't be seeing any result at all. That's how magic works. Any time you lot wanna go back to hunting the old fashioned way, no skin off my nose. I've got plenty of water-hauling to keep me busy."

The Argents really hate being made to feel like anyone else is in charge.)

He's not forgotten about the real chance the hunters really will get the drop on Derek one of these days, though – or the equally real chance he's going to be their unwilling accessory when they do. The first time they'd left at dawn he'd spent half the morning with his heart in his mouth. Summoning Derek to the Tower in full daylight was out of the question, but he never had managed to get Derek to clarify exactly much of a heads-up he needed to get away. Then, an hour later, while Stiles was on his way out to the woodpile, he'd caught a glimpse of Derek in the woods, lurking just beyond the edge of the tree-line. He hadn't said anything to Stiles – just grinned the grin of a man sharing the world's most nefarious private joke, then vanished away into the shadows – but he hadn't particularly needed to say anything more. Stiles got the message loud and clear.

He'd made it back to the Tower that day with his heart in his ears rather than his mouth, and had to work hard at keeping himself from grinning so widely that everyone he saw would know he was up to something. So help him, being able to give the hunters the run-around on their anti-Derek crusade is fun. After all the trouble they've put him through keeping Scott's secret ever since the poor guy was turned, this part is very nearly more viciously satisfying than even the sex he's getting out of the deal.

Stiles knows it's got to be too good to last – something here is going to have to give eventually, but Derek's not going anywhere and the hunters aren't just going to give up. It's no secret that what they really want is permission to throw Stiles into the saddle for the next hunt so they can make him play human-compass five times a day until they find their mark. If any of them cared enough to ask Stiles' opinion, he'd have gladly told them that was a whole lot of wishful thinking, considering that even after weeks of practice, he still can't make the trick work consistently any time between the twilight-hours of sunset and dawn – and doing it even once a day takes it out of you. He'd be less eager to admit that what really scares him is the possibility that maybe it will work – though that's much of a moot point when, again, it's been made clear to him that no-one cares about his opinion. You don't know until you're tested, says Chris Argent. Words to live by. (Stiles wonders how Chris would feel about letting Stiles 'test' how well Chris might deal with being stabbed repeatedly in both legs.)

Fortunately, the other reason why no-one wants to discuss Stiles' concerns is that the hunters have yet to get their plans for him past the very first hurdle, which is getting Lydia's permission. Since recovering from the first incubus attack she's been none too pleased about the idea of the hunters leaving her undefended for more than hours at a time, and if anything, she's even less pleased about letting them take one of her few remaining servants with them.

Stiles is so grateful he'd just about forgiven her for the whole Jackson thing within days.

In the meantime Stiles is still getting regular, mindblowing sex with a confusing, incommunicative lump of an incubus, while living an awkward double-life as a castle servant and/or demon hunter informant. If it all blows up in his face a month from now... well, at least he's got some excitement to look forward to. But a month in, the greatest surprise to come out of it is that on the balance of things, Derek is actually solving more problems than he creates.

And for the record, no – ridding Stiles of his inconvenient virginity doesn't count; the part that counts is Derek's help in solving one very particular problem which has been hanging over his head ever since the day Scott was turned. Derek doesn't get to come out smelling of nothing but roses after this one – it's his presence that forces the issue in the end. But even so, the fact remains that Stiles hadn't made one lick of progress on his own, not from the moment Scott was bitten right up to the day Derek shows up in his room to find his path blocked by a ring of mountain ash around Stiles' bed.

Derek hits the barrier before he sees it. He looks down, unimpressed in that special way only Derek can be. "This is your idea of a joke?"

Stiles can't resist a little victory bounce. "It worked! It did, didn't it? You can't cross, right?"

"Yes, Stiles," says Derek, with nothing like real patience. "That's how mountain ash works."

"Sure, but I didn't know I could get it to work on you until I got you here to try it," Stiles bounces off the bed and puts his toes right up against his ash line, so that Derek's hardly inches in front of him and can't do a thing. He's never had any objection to Derek touching him before, but anyone would get a kick out of having the power to draw the line so firmly. "And you didn't even know it was going to be there, right? You got that I wanted you here, but you didn't know what for. Your mind-reading trick does have blind spots, huh, Derek?"

"Next time I'll be sure to pay more attention," says Derek in a tone like acid, and turns on his heel.

"The hunters want me to put it around the whole tower," calls Stiles, before he can get to the window, "and I don't have a good excuse to tell them no."

Derek stops; turns halfway back around. "The whole tower?"

Stiles gives him a shrug. "Apparently woodcutting really is a vital hunting skill. Maybe it's traditional, I don't know – goes along with stalking little girls in red. A month ago, we didn't have enough of this stuff to surround a table; now they're hauling it in by the log load and grinding it all down." He breaks a gap through the ash with a toe – a peace offering, of sorts. Great as it is to get a rise out of Derek, that's honestly not what this was about. "I thought... maybe if it didn't work on you, that'd be something. It definitely works on Scott, in case you were wondering."

"The werewolf," Derek supplies.

Stiles nods. "Tested him already. Don't get me wrong – it's nice to know I can keep out things like you if we get any more unfriendlies turning up, but what I really need right now is a way to make it not work without the hunters noticing. I was actually kinda hoping you might have some clever way around it."

Derek's gaze drops again to the thin curve of ash tracing the outline of Stiles' bed, barely distinguishable from the floorboards, his mouth pressed into a thin, hard line. "What if I did?"

***

Laying out a ring of mountain ash is one of the oldest and easiest tricks of the trade. Deaton taught him the theory years ago, but before Scott was turned, Stiles never had much interest in wasting his time on rituals he didn't need and couldn't even test – and afterwards, the last thing either of them wanted was the hunters noticing Scott couldn't leave the tower all of a sudden. For months, Stiles has reassured himself with a long list of good reasons why putting a protective ring around the whole tower would be a waste of effort. The nearest source of good mountain ash was a day's ride away, not counting transport time back again. It wouldn't last long enough to be worth the trouble – even magically placed circles of fine woodchips will fall victim to the elements eventually. They didn't need it, as long as they still had stone walls and locking doors. No wild wolf would ever bother breaking in here.

None of which was going to keep the subject off the table indefinitely. Stiles had never had any solution better than breaking the circle discretely after placing it and hoping the hunters wouldn't notice – and none he could get past his conscience now, knowing that Lydia had been attacked once already.

Not until Derek brings him a book that teaches him that the possibilities of mountain ash are truly more varied and complex than he'd ever imagined. Tuning a circle to let a specific supernatural creature – or two – through, while keeping the rest away is the least of what he could do with this.

"Where did you get this?" Stiles is almost dumbfounded as he pages through instructions for how to construct circles that aren't circles at all; that can be built into walls or across gates, that can work without a complete loop, that can be broken by hands that didn't make them, that will interlock and cascade one to the next as the outermost is broken... he's not going to get any sleep tonight.

"Sure you want to know?" says Derek, testily.

"If there's more, hell yeah." Stiles doesn't even have to think about that one.

"Don't push your luck, Stiles," Derek grumbles, but with the sort of impatience that Stiles has long since decided is more fond than really impatient. Presumably deducing that not even the offer of amazing sex is going to have much hope of distracting Stiles any time soon, he heads for the window. Stiles is so engrossed he's halfway there before he notices.

"Wait!" Stiles calls after him, "Thank you, seriously. This is amazing." He doesn't care that he's grinning from ear to ear, and he cares even less when he gets Derek to smile back at him.

"I have a vested interest in being able to get in here in future," Derek points out, shrugging.

"Yeah, but you didn't have to bring me the whole book."

"No," Derek agrees. "I guess I didn't."

"As soon as I'm done here you are getting so much sex for this!" Stiles yells as he vanishes out the window.

When tomorrow comes, however, he's having second thoughts.

The instructions for constructing a Derek-friendly mountain ash ring are pretty simple; there's not much more to it than for the person who laid out the circle to break it somewhere discrete, then seal the gap with a mixture of ash and Derek's own blood (and Stiles does not care how fast anyone heals, that gap is going to be as small as he can make it). He's already done this with Scott; he knows it works. But Scott is Scott, and wolf or not, he's still the same lovable idiot Stiles has known since he can hardly remember when. Letting Derek in, on the other hand – that has a few implications he's only now realising that he might not have quite thought through.

Standing in a sheltered spot on the tower wall by the last light of the day, with Derek waiting impatiently in front of him, the time for dithering over his conflicted loyalties is officially over.

"If I do this," he tells Derek, with his pulse hammering in his ears, "I need you to promise me something."

"You're learning." On Derek's lips it doesn't sound much like a compliment, but at least he doesn't sound angry. Considering that Stiles is nearly convinced that 'turned on' and 'pissed off' are the only two states he's capable of inspiring in Derek, that's more than he was expecting. "What did you have in mind?"

Stiles takes a deep breath. "I need you to swear to me you won't harm anyone who lives here."

Stiles has no idea whether this is close to what Derek was expecting, but he's definitely not pleased. "Including the hunters."

"Yes. Look. I don't like them much more than you do, but they're," Stiles scrubs a hand through his hair. "They're trying to do a good thing! Under all the weird obsession, and the crazy, and the bloodlust, they're protecting people from real monsters, probably more often than not! They're trusting me to keep things like you out."

Derek's jaw works soundlessly throughout Stiles' explanation. "And if they track me down out there," he says, jerking his head toward the forest, "you're fine with leaving me defenceless."

"No, I'm not fine, I just... I can't give the same creature-of-the-night they're hunting a free pass into the tower. We both know that now the ring is in place, they're going to be a lot less careful about how deeply they sleep at night. There's letting you in, and there's handing you their heads on a platter."

"You don't trust me." Might be nice if Derek could sound a little more surprised by that.

"Derek, I don't even know for sure if I can trust myself to know whether I should trust you." Stiles takes a deep breath. "But you could give me a reason to."

Derek huffs and takes a step towards him, close enough to make Stiles very aware of the small difference in height between them. "If you let me in," he says. "I'll swear to you not to harm anyone within the boundaries of this circle, whether they live here or no. Outside your tower, I give you no promises. Will that satisfy you?"

Stiles feels his eyelids flutter closed in relief. "Yeah. That's perfect."

Derek bleeds black. Stiles doesn't know if he'd been expecting that, his head's still buzzing with the enormity of it all, right up to the moment when he closes the circle again and Derek steps over it and pushes him hungrily up against the side of the tower, and soon wipes away all fears this might have become something that would linger between them; that could change where they stand with one another in any way but for the better.

***

In the end, everyone wins. Scott and Derek get to keep coming and going as they please, the hunters are happy, and Lydia is... mollified, more or less, and everyone's horribly impressed with Stiles. Except Jackson, but that's business as usual, and Stiles knows even he's happy the hunters can spend more time out hunting again, rather than breathing down their necks all the time.

It's not all good news that month. Harris is back from his prolonged sabbatical with the start of spring, fresh and eager to resume those parts of his stewardly duties that revolve directly around making Scott and Stiles' lives miserable. A dozen minor chores neither of them bothered with back when they hadn't had Lord Martin's steward breathing down their necks are suddenly reinstated as essential (does anyone really care which flag is flying from the tower in which orientation at what hour of the day, or how long it's been since they last polished the brasswork in the great hall? They're not in any danger of having guests up here these days). Since Scott and Stiles are already responsible for lugging the greater part of the upper floors' needs in water and firewood up every one of the Tower stairs, scraping out the fireplaces, emptying their chamber pots and sweeping their floors – not to mention being expected to pitch in on laundry day now that there's no-one else to help – it's slightly beyond even Harris to make his favourite spiels about their 'slovenly excuse for dedication to duty' all that convincing. Even Jackson seems closer to second-hand embarrassment than his usual gleeful schadenfreude over it lately, and Jackson knows Scott's wolf-muscles are about the only reason they're keeping up at all. Frankly, by any human standards, the workload the Tower's last two dedicated chore-boys have been shouldering lately should have them qualified for sainthood.

Stiles really hopes Harris himself never gets around to examining the mystery of how they're keeping up too closely. The last thing they need is for Scott to come under extra scrutiny from someone who hates him as much as Harris does, and keeping the man diverted is close to being a full-time job these days. Harris has had it in for both of them for years; bad enough that Stiles is the son of Lord Martin's marshal, whom Harris hadn't liked even before that ugly little incident where his bookkeeping skills had come under suspicion. He clearly doesn't know what to do with the implicit promotion Stiles has gotten himself now that he's assisting the hunters on a regular basis – Harris had to have the instruction repeated to him twice the first time Kate had shown up to demand their share of Stiles' time, and apparently managed to selectively forget the whole experience between that and the second time, leaving Kate to explain all over again.

For that matter, Harris has never known quite what to do with Lydia either, who on the one hand outranks him, but on the other is young, female, and likely still too inescapably connected to the unpleasantness surrounding the former Lady Martin to be entirely trusted – at least to Harris' mind. Lydia is also opinionated, impatient, and will agree with Harris only just enough to keep him on his toes. The hunters, meanwhile, may not technically outrank him, but remain both important and terrifying enough to throw a fair bit of weight around when they want to (which they usually do). And as entertaining as it may be to watch Harris stuck in the middle of all the posturing going on around the tower lately, it'd be a good deal more entertaining if his default method of coping didn't involve taking it out on any target available.

Stiles' own personal road to hell may well begin the day he caves to the temptation to see if Derek can find it in his demonic heart to do him a favour and murder the guy in his sleep.

Fortunately, Harris has his own distractions, what with the household's annual journey to the manor house on the far side of the Martin estate fast approaching, and no-one is being spared their part in that excitement. Goods have to be packed, horses have to be acquired (read: borrowed from people who'll need them back again later), inns have to be notified (or rather reminded, in no uncertain terms, of the importance of the guests they'll be expecting very soon) and the whole route scoured for winter debris of the sort which might offend a train of wagons trying to get past in a hurry. Since the Tower's guard has been whittled down to only Jackson plus the Hunters – and even Jackson's more inclined to see an armed escort as something he deserves rather than something he has to admit to needing – that's left the hunters responsible for a large share of the scouting and messenger-work.

Ordinarily, that shouldn't have been a problem. As far as Stiles understands it, this all falls within the terms of their agreement with Lord Martin, which broadly covers the provision of supplies, shelter and lordly endorsement on the part of the Martins, in exchange for which the hunters are expected to dispatch assorted creatures of the night, inconvenience the local bandit population, and generally remind the peasants that their taxes are due whenever the opportunity might present itself. That charter has apparently been broadened recently to keep them operating in the lord's absence – Stiles is even hazier on those details, but protecting the household while the rest of the knights are away was presumably a significant theme. Even so, being expected to put that part into practice would probably have gone down better with the hunters if not for the lingering issue of that rogue incubus they've been hunting, still out there besmirching their spotless strike record.

And even after more than a month with nothing to show for it, the hunters have no trouble keeping themselves busy on that front. Besides periodically calling Stiles down and charging away in whatever direction he points them at, hunting the incubus seems to require a lot of riding around to liaise with other hunter teams in adjacent regions, plus some sort of general community outreach effort to whip all the local peasants into a state of panic over the matter (and probably remind the little people about their taxes while they're at it). If Chris and Kate had hoped that Lydia might be a bit less obstinate over the division of their time (not to mention Stiles' time) now the Tower's defensive barrier is in place, by now they must be thoroughly disappointed.

Stiles is in no way qualified to guess how much of that friction is real disagreement and how much comes down to personal issues and spite at this point, but either way, the excitement of internal Tower politics never lets up.

This is all to say that, even a solid three weeks after the mountain ash went down around the tower, it's no surprise for Stiles to make it into the grand hall at dinner time (late) to find that Lydia and Chris are already arguing. And just as naturally, it's Harris who spots him first.

"Mr Stilinski," calls Harris. "I can only assume this delay means I can expect to find the heraldic tapestries have finally been dusted when next I check." He holds up his mug expectantly, still far too important to stoop to pouring his own ale.

Stiles mutters something uncomplimentary on the subject of drapery, and hurries over with the jug, generally concluding that whatever Scott's eyebrows are trying to communicate to him from the other side of the table probably isn't all that important. Actually, he'd been pestering the cook for anything she could remember about the messenger who'd arrived earlier with the letters from Lord Martin's men – something which must have taken weeks to weave its way back along the supply lines – so Stiles could track him down and find out why there'd been nothing from his Dad. There'd been no notice of death in those messages, so he isn't panicking (yet), but he's been waiting for that letter ever since the day his Dad left.

Unfortunately, Chris is the one to come to Stiles' defence. "You shouldn't be so hard on him," he tells Harris, interrupting his 'discussion' with Lydia. "That boy has better things in his future than manual labour. We should really see about setting aside some more time for his studies, wouldn't you agree, Stiles?"

"I'd find it hard to see much future in his studies if a little dusting is still beyond his means," Harris returns, pointedly.

Across the hall, Stiles catches Jackson rolling his eyes; it's the sort of sentiment he'd agree with emphatically if it wasn't for how Jackson would be the first one here to abandon him in the same boat as everyone else here. If they really have to argue over dinner, Stiles rather wishes they'd all leave him out of it.

"With all due respect," says Chris, in that particular tone which means quite the opposite, "one could hardly expect a steward to know what to look for in a case like Stiles'. Speaking of which," he adds, turning back to Lydia, "we've still not settled the matter of when Stiles will be joining us out hunting."

"Hadn't we?" says Lydia, sweetly. "I could have sworn you'd asked me weeks ago, and I'd informed you the answer was 'no'."

"And now that we have the mountain ash in place, I'd say the time has come to revisit the subject," Chris replies, smooth as anything, not at all deterred that he's doing this without backup. Both Allison and Kate are out on the hunt tonight – or maybe just on some errand; Stiles doesn't really keep track. Heck, maybe that's what they were arguing about when he came in.

Lydia affects one of her most elegantly put upon expressions. "Am I to understand, Mr Argent, that your ash can be expected to aid in the packing and cleaning chores in Stiles' place, while he's unavailable?"

"The packing and cleaning can safely be delayed for a matter of days in the name of eliminating the demon terrorising your countryside!" Christ snaps back, with a force that makes Stiles wince slightly.

"How many days do you think that might that be, exactly?" Lydia inquires. "I do believe someone had assured me that when he could dedicate his men to the task, the demon would be lucky to outlast their very next expedition. How many trips ago was that?"

"My men have been split between hunting and playing messenger for trivialities!"

Lydia delicately examines the chunk of potato speared on the end of her fork. "Remind me, Mr Argent, how many victims has your demon claimed in that time?"

"We may not have been made aware of any known victims-"

"And how many times has it been sighted since your sister's fateful night?" Lydia cuts him off without raising her voice. Apparently interpreting Chris' expression as a negative, she ploughs on, "So, let me get this straight. You want me to postpone our travel to the manor house, and lend you the use of one of my few remaining servants, so you can gallivant off across the countryside hunting for a demon – which for all we know may have left this part of the country weeks ago – while I sit here in the same room where I came under attack from a real demon – one that I might remind you was dispatched without any help from your hunters in the first place. I'm simply to cool my heels here until such time as you find convenient. Why don't I think about that... hm. No," she pronounces.

Chris opens his mouth.

"Now surely we can find more pleasant topics for dinner conversation?" Lydia declares, before Chris has gotten out a first syllable. "Jackson, wasn't there a letter for you today? From Danny?"

"Oh, don't let me interrupt," Jackson mutters around a lump of mutton. "But if you wanna know, yeah, I did. The skirmishing has been agreeing with him more than all the waiting in between. Wishes I was there."

"Is that so," Chris begins, and Stiles can practically see him gearing up to ask Jackson just what it's like to be hearing about the action from his perspective, as the guy who got denied the right to go along – when, to his immense relief, Allison picks that moment to march into the hall out of nowhere, still in her riding clothes, her countenance equal parts determined and spooked.

"Home early aren't we, Miss Argent?" Lydia calls, obviously as surprised as any of them.

Allison barely gives her a sideways glance. "Excuse me, my lady. I need to speak with my father. Urgently."

Chris is already on his feet; he meets Allison halfway across the hall and a couple of minutes of tense, hushed conversation ensues. Stiles can't make out a word of it, but he does get to watch Scott's eyes widen steadily through the whole exchange.

Chris turns back to the table with an air of practiced condescension. "My apologies, Miss Lydia, an urgent matter has arisen and I fear I'm forced to leave you to finish your meal without my company. Word has just reached us that the incubus has claimed another victim."

There's absolutely no missing the undertone of victory in his voice; for a long moment after the whole room goes completely silent.

Stiles only vaguely remembers watching them leave, or much of anything else that happens over dinner that night.

***

It's hours before Stiles has the chance to get away from his chores and lock himself in a room alone. He's not going to call Derek; he can't afford that until he's at least had the chance to calm down, but the truth is that, somewhere on the inside, he knows he's been waiting for something like this to happen for weeks. He hates the hunters for their smug sense of certainty – one mysterious death and of course the incubus has to be the one to blame. He hates Derek for putting him in this position; hates himself for doubting Derek, for not being able to snap his fingers and know exactly who to trust. Hates most of all that little part of himself that just doesn't want to know whether Derek's involved, and hates that he's going to have to ask, even knowing he's not going to be able to believe the reply.

Going by the way he's feeling right now, he's not going to be in any state to deal with Derek until this time tomorrow at the earliest. But when he hears Derek's voice above him say, "I'm not going to like this one, am I?" it's such a non-surprise that Stiles doesn't bother looking up right away.

"I'm gonna have to revise my theories on how much you can read from me if you think I want you here right now," he mutters, trying to bury his face in the pillow.

"You don't want to want me here. Not quite the same thing," says Derek. "But you do want answers to something you don't think you're allowed to ask, and it's tearing you up."

Stiles knows putting this off isn't going to make it any better. He sighs, rolls over and sits up, needing to be able to look Derek in the eye while he does this. "The hunters say they found your latest victim."

A rush of different emotions flash across Derek's face, too fast to catch, before settling on understanding. He makes a noise like a sigh that goes through his nose. "You mean they found someone dead, without obvious cause, and they think it was me." He looks to Stiles. "Who?"

"A woman from a town south of here. Perfectly healthy until yesterday; this morning, she's dead."

"Looking like she died in her sleep?" asks Derek.

"No, like she died in agony while having the life sucked out of her, what do you think?" Thank you, Scott, for all the gory detail the rest of the room wasn't supposed to hear.

Derek stares at him a moment. "You're not joking."

"Ha, yeah! Funny subject!"

Derek breathes out. "Then it wasn't one of us."

"What?" Apparently Stiles has missed something somewhere.

"When we kill," Derek explains, "it's painless. It wouldn't... your hunters should know that."

"Well, how am I supposed to know?" Stiles is almost yelling and he doesn't even care. "Maybe they're just telling each other she died horribly because it makes a better story!"

The look Derek gives him then is all but unreadable, and not in a good way. "You think I did it."

Stiles deflates a bit, and sighs into his hands. "I don't know what to think, okay? What do I know – just because you haven't sucked the life out of me doesn't mean you don't need to suck the life out of someone once in a while. It's what your type are known for and all."

"Stiles," says Derek, obviously losing patience, "I don't – look, for one thing, if I did, don't you think I'd have the sense to pick someone further away? And for another, we don't suck life out of anyone. It's not even about life, it's about... sensation."

"Sensation," Stiles echoes. This is officially all the information on the subject Derek has ever offered him.

Derek nods, absently. "The more intense, the better."

Stiles thinks about this. "So. Sex and death, huh?"

"The most intense sensation humans can experience," Derek agrees. "When we touch you, we feel some of what you feel. We need that. Without it... there isn't a good word for it in your language. Our bodies forget how to feel. We go numb to pain, then to contact, until eventually we can't feel our own fingers. We become disconnected from our physical form to the point that control is like pulling puppet strings from a distance. The paralysis spreads until it kills us."

Stiles is starting to feel he should be writing this down. "So," he says, thinking aloud, "the intense second-hand sensation of death isn't intensified even further by, say, really intense pain?"

Derek actually winces. "Pain doesn't help. It has the opposite effect; it uses up our reserves, makes us want to forget how to feel and accelerates the process. The sensation has to be pleasant or it doesn't work."

"Dying is a pleasant sensation?"

"It can be."

For once in his life, Stiles lets his eyebrows handle this one.

Derek makes another impatient noise. "It's hard to describe. It's about release; moving beyond pain, going somewhere you can't ever be hurt again. What we'd feel ourselves if we gave in to the temptation to let go. Some of us find it intoxicating; even see it as a mercy."

Jesus, thinks Stiles, scrubbing a hand over his face. It's not that he doesn't understand that, it's that he's not sure he wants to. "I think I liked the life-sucking explanation better."

"You don't believe me." Derek doesn't sound hurt or indignant about this, just resigned.

"I want to, not that I like what that probably says about me, when you're, you know..." Stiles waves a hand in Derek's general direction. "But how am I supposed to know when I've only got your word for it, and none of my books say anything like this?"

"These are the books that told you I'd keel over at the touch of another man?" says Derek, because clearly they're way past their sincerity quota for this conversation already.

"Ha, funny. I'm talking about my bestiary, smartass," says Stiles, tossing a pillow in Derek's direction. "Pretty sure that's one's more reliable than some poet's one-handed-fantasy."

"This isn't in your books," says Derek, speaking very slowly and clearly, "because this isn't information we share with just anyone. You think we want every hunter in the country to know our greatest weakness is extreme pain?"

Stiles frowns. He can't really argue that, but something here doesn't feel like it adds up and he can't quite put his finger on what. "Instead of – wait, Lydia!" he exclaims, finally hitting paydirt. "She told me the real version of that story! You explain to me how that's supposed to work without life-sucking, mister."

Derek's brow furrows inwards. "Which story?"

"The one where they fed poison to some poor kid and left him as incubus-bait? This ringing any bells?"

Derek looks at him blankly. "What part is it you don't understand?"

"How about how the boy lived if the incubus didn't suck the death out of him, or whatever you wanna call that part?" If Derek's being deliberately obtuse Stiles is not going to forgive him in a hurry.

Derek's frown only deepens. "Stiles, no-one in that story lived. The poison paralysed the boy and left him to die slowly in horrible pain. When the incubus touched him, it was the pain that left it helpless. I just explained this to you."

"That's not how Lydia tells it."

"Then she's either mistaken or lying." Derek bites out the words.

"Mistaken? Lydia? And why would she lie to me about how she knew I was lying unless... oh my god. Lydia, you evil – you evil genius."

The noise Derek makes this time is a real sigh, no quantifications involved. "She fed you a line to test you, and you bought it, didn't you?"

"She knows I was still lying to her," Stiles says, thinking aloud through his rising horror. "And she hasn't pressed it because... god, she must know about the geas too. She probably recognised what it was as soon as I passed out." He looks up at Derek through his fingers. "So what does she think is really going on?"

"At a guess?" offers Derek. "Probably that you killed that incubus by summoning something worse and making a deal you shouldn't have."

If so, that means she's giving Stiles way more credit than he deserves, but Derek's guess is as good as any Stiles can come up with. Everything Lydia has done to keep the hunters off Stiles' back over the last few weeks is suddenly starting to look way more significant; Stiles can't believe he fell for thinking she was ever as clueless about what's really been going on as she'd let them all believe. "Do you think she knows the something is our other incubus?"

"You tell me," says Derek.

Stiles puts his head in his hands. "You know," he gripes, "none of this would be an issue if you'd helped me come up with a better cover story when I asked you to."

Derek rolls his eyes. "Clearly I should have known better than to trust you to come up with a convincing story on your own."

"Hey! I don't know if you've noticed, but I'm not actually as qualified for this as everyone thinks I am!" The petty side of Stiles would really like to suggest that Derek just never imagined the fallout was going to become his problem until after the Kate Fiasco, but they're not going to get anywhere useful by sniping at each other all night.

Derek glares at him, but given how he passes up the obvious opening for further insult against Stiles' intelligence, maybe he's reaching a similar conclusion.

Stiles rubs his hands over his face one more time and tries to think like someone who actually does have more than a snowball's chance in hell of sorting his life out in the foreseeable future. "Okay," he says. "Let's say I'm going to believe you on this one for now. We need to find out what really killed that woman." Looking Derek right in the eye, he finishes, "And then we need to find a way to fake your death."

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