There was a thump from above them—like a muffled explosion, because they totally needed more of those—and it had Allison, Derek, and Stiles all looking up at the ceiling, then at each other.
"What the heck was that?" Stiles wondered, catching his shirt when Derek tossed it at him, making sure to keep his mental party of joy and confusion and absolute terror to himself. "Sounded like somebody farted through a megaphone."
Allison did that disapproving thing with her mouth. "Nice metaphor."
Stiles yanked on his shirt and dialed his indignant self up to eleven, just for the hell of it. "Well excuse me, but I haven't had time to come up with new joke material—sue me, I've been a little busy trying not to—"
Everything suddenly got sucked into searing, bubbling agony, lighting up Stiles' body from the inside like a Roman candle. It was blinding and disorienting and such a powerful sensation that Stiles was surprised his brain didn't melt in his head. He heard someone screaming and—oh, that was him, wasn't it? His head was swimming and his entire body felt like unstable gelatin, tingly and useless.
It was like somebody flipped a switch, everything changed so fast—Stiles felt like he was in the seventh circle of Hell, and then he was on his back with a view of the McCalls' ugly kitchen linoleum. He was half on the floor and half in somebody's lap—he smelled leather and dirt and ash, had to be Derek—and Allison was cradling his face and saying his name, urgency and panic clouding her features.
"Oh my God, worst bender ever," Stiles groaned. He noticed that Isaac, Scott, Erica and Boyd had joined them, looking various degrees of worried, and thought it through to a conclusion that made his mouth go dry. "Why… what happened to Polly?"
Scott's face turned an unflattering shade of green, while Boyd stared at his shoes and Erica chewed on her lip. Stiles already knew the answer to his question—felt it in his head, in his bones—but had to ask anyway.
Isaac spoke, haltingly and with an undercurrent of fear. "She's dead. She was fine, and then she kind of… collapsed into herself."
"Like a balloon that got all the air sucked out of it, or something," Erica added, trying to sound unfazed and not doing a great job. "It's pretty grisly, there isn't much left of her. No idea how we're going to—" Her eyes locked on the spot where Stiles' shirt didn't meet his jeans, and she gasped, pointing and taking a staggering step backwards.
"What? What is it?" Stiles exclaimed, sitting up… and realizing it didn't hurt to do that. Oh, fuck. That can't be good. He heard Derek suck in a sharp breath behind him, fingers coming to rest lightly on the skin on the back of Stiles' neck.
Skin that was turning an iridescent black, just like a harpy's.
Stiles gave Three Dog Night (with special guest star Scott "Werewolf Oven" McCall) instructions as to where to ditch Polly's body—another thing being a cop's son was good for, knowing how to get rid of dead people—and then he went home, sliding into bed as the sun rose.
He couldn't sleep, even though he was magically no longer in pain from his wounds. There was an insistent, annoying tugging in his gut, like a leash trying to pull him—well, probably to a slaughterhouse or Mordor or something.
At eight-thirty in the morning, Stiles renewed his belief in the ol' I'll sleep when I'm dead philosophy, booted up the laptop, and lifted up his shirt to look in the mirror.
All of the cuts on his body were gone, vanished like they'd never been there, no scars or marks. Patches of shiny black skin were starting to spread in their place, meshing together and trying to wrap around from his chest to his back. Most people, after being relieved of such terrible injuries, would be running out in the street or calling their doctor, shouting about miracles—Stiles knew better than that.
He was alone and scared and panicking like a tourist in an unfamiliar airport.
As he reread the relevant parts of the bestiary, his breathing came faster and he started to shake and wonder when the hell his life had gotten so freaking weird.
Polly had attacked Stiles the other night to steal him for herself—which was the assumption they'd be working under, considering the klepto thing, although Stiles couldn't figure how who he was supposed to "belong" to. But instead of kidnapping him, she ended up trying to turn him, although Polly wouldn't have done it on purpose if she wanted to keep him around and, y'know, alive.
According to what Ye Ole Argents knew, men couldn't be turned into harpies. The toxin that changed women into winged beasts killed men from the inside out, which was exactly what was happening to Stiles. The transformation had begun when Polly died, probably triggered by some kind of mental connection to the other harpies. Supposedly, the only reasons Stiles was still alive was because he was young and healthy and a stubborn pain in the ass who was currently freaking out.
He didn't know how he'd missed his bedroom window being pushed open or Derek clambering inside like a deranged monkey, but suddenly there were hands on his face, bigger and rougher than Allison's had been, and Derek was telling him to calm down, to just breathe, but that wasn't helping and he knew he was babbling incoherently and—
Derek made a frustrated, growly sound, and then holymotherofGod he was kissing Stiles.
It was dry and closed-mouthed, nothing to write home about, but it meant something, something bold and exhilarating and insane. Stiles found that his anxiety level was on the down slope, and reality got a little fuzzy as he returned the pressure, unsure of what to do, considering it was the first time anyone had kissed him. Turned out Stiles really liked kissing, especially kissing Derek, but sooner or later they had to breathe.
Stiles blinked as he leaned back, panting and trembling for a totally different reason than before, and asked, "Uh… wow, would you mind telling me what the actual hell that was?"
Derek looked like he was just as fucked up as Stiles was—like he had also come to the conclusion that running at one another and running to one another were completely different things, and they'd just crossed that line.
Finally, Derek said in a neutral tone, "You wouldn't shut up. You were having a panic attack. I… stopped you." He paused to listen to something Stiles couldn't hear. "Your father's in the kitchen, and I think he's making pancakes—and dropping things."
Stiles got up and pulled on a hoodie to cover up his arms and neck, which were slowly but steadily turning the same greenish-black color as the area where his stitches had been. He rubbed his face and headed for the door, but paused with his hand on the knob. "You know we have to discuss the big gay elephant in the room, right? I mean, I'm… I'm dying, man. And I'm not sure there's a way to stop it."
Since when had he gotten so goddamn calm about it?
"I'll find a way. We'll find a way." Derek's voice sounded tight. "I've never been able to save anyone before… but now, with the pack… maybe I can save you." He paused, and added in a whisper, "And then maybe you can keep saving me."
When Stiles turned around, Derek had disappeared out the window, and the USB drive containing the translated bestiary was gone.
Stiles spent two precious, werewolf-free hours with his dad, and it almost felt normal.
His dad was still painkiller-loopy, but able to lounge on the couch with his cast propped up and eat half-burned blueberry pancakes while he and Stiles watched infomercials for amazing bras and blankets with lights in 'em and all kinds of crap. During one of the lulls (when he wasn't choking on something because he was laughing), Stiles felt a pang of longing for his mom, which wasn't all that odd—he thought about her a lot, and knew he'd never stop, and mornings like this one proved it. He'd always know she was missing from her spot between them, and he wondered what she would've said about the guy hawking the gizmo that was supposed to chop stuff when you hit its top.
Stiles was washing the dishes and up to his elbows in soap and water when his phone vibrated on the counter. Rinsing off and swearing under the sound of his father snoring in the living room, Stiles grabbed his phone and looked at the text he'd just received from Scott:
Derek brought bes besti BESTIARY to vet w/ 3 dog night get to Deeeaton's naow he knows how 2 FIX U!
"But can he fix your grammar? I think not," Stiles muttered, draining the sink and digging around in his jeans for his keys. He swore again and with more words that started with F when he realized he wasn't even wearing jeans—he hadn't gotten dressed, which meant his keys were upstairs.
Stiles trudged back to his room and braced himself for the sight of Derek sitting on his desk solving a Rubix cube or some shit, despite the panic-attack-stopping kissing and him stealing the USB drive earlier. And honestly, Stiles had planned on taking the info to Deaton as an attempt to save his skin, so in the grand scheme of things—like kissing Derek—it was a drop in the bucket.
Except when he opened the door to his room—he remembered too late that he hadn't left it closed—it wasn't Derek waiting inside for him.
The surprise in the cereal box was a harpy, black skin luminous and green eyes bright, her unfamiliar features aquiline and pristine. Her talons were on display like knives on a magnetic strip, sharp and ready to shred, wings were spread out and curved. She grinned, showing seemingly endless rows of needle-like teeth, and let out a hiss of triumph.
Stiles backpedaled towards the door, but the reaction came an instant too late—he saw the bird-woman swoop towards him, and then he saw nothing at all.
Unlike every fictional character in the history of getting knocked out, Stiles didn't have a nice dreamlike moment right before consciousness slapped him in the face like a dead fish, because that would've been cliché.
However, he did wake up to find that he was tied to a chair via his arms and legs, in a small room with a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling. Huh.
The pain was back, boiling and making Stiles catch his breath, but it was a different kind of pain than the scratches or the concussion—this was like the pain he'd felt in Scott's kitchen, only ten times worse, to infinity and fucking beyond. Nerves were being overloaded, and Stiles could feel his muscles spasm and his bones creak, every part of him straining to become something he could never be.
"Not a nice feeling, is it?" a voice asked. A doorway had appeared in the gloom and a decidedly female figure was silhouetted in it. The light behind her was bright and Stiles shrunk away from it, much to his own self-disgust and her amusement. "I didn't think so. It's a wonder you're even alive—I'm not sure how you've made it this far."
"Perseverance and force of will," Stiles snapped. He felt something shifting around in his back and tried to ignore it. He focused instead on the woman and heard more than saw her talons snapping out. Stall, stall and maybe someone will find you. "What's your prerogative anyway, Flock Leader? Did Polly really want this cracker, or was that your idea?"
That earned him a laugh. "Polly… ah, to be honest, Polly was a dolt." She came closer and stood in front of Stiles, since there was plenty of light to see by now. A pretty woman, with severe features, a waterfall of loose black hair, and eyes that alternated between gray and that blazing shade of green. She examined her talons as if they were nails. "Low-level flock member, infiltrated the school for me, took a liking to you. When I found out who your friends were…" She smiled; her lips were painted red with what Stiles' really hoped was lipstick, displaying two rows of human teeth… for the moment. "I couldn't pass up an opportunity like this one. But Polly's not the one who attacked you and your father; that was me."
Stiles tried to eye her critically but ended up looking dyspeptic. "And you are?"
"Oh, Jesus Christ." Stiles couldn't believe what he was hearing, but that wasn't new—this broad was one of the three original harpy sisters from the Greek mythology. He looked all around, expecting a couple more of her to join them from some dusty corner. "What about the other two?"
She was in his face, suddenly, talons splintering the wood of the chair like kindling, and she was growing those needle teeth and screeching, "They're dead—why else do you think I would be here, you filthy fucking human?" Aello took in a deep breath and a step back, trying to calm herself down. Twisted amusement lurked in her expression. "And can you guess whose fault that is? Why I built a new flock, came to this town, tried to turn you into a beast like me, even when I knew it would kill you?"
The last pieces of the puzzle clicked into place for Stiles, and damn, it wasn't a pretty picture. "Let me guess—revenge? Who was it, the Hales or the Argents?"
Another laugh from Aello, but this one was like scraping razor blades together. "It was both of them. That code that the Argents stick to mixed up with the Hales' sickening need to be the only supernatural entity within a fifty-mile radius… it made for an interesting relationship. We got too close one night, started snatching up the wrong things, and suddenly my family was no better than pigs in a slaughterhouse. My plan was simple, although it took years to prepare—come back in numbers and figure out what they valued the most so I could take it away. Turns out the Argents value very little and the Hales are all dead… save for one. And he's only got one thing that matters to him now."
"Yeah, and he's coming after me—" I really, really, really hope so, Stiles added mentally, "—and so are my friends, which means you signed your own death warrant when you brought me here." Looking at her waxy skin and short breathing and wild eyes, Stiles deduced something that scared him shitless, even through another wave of agony. "Oh my God. You're insane… you don't care."
"Why should I? You're already doomed—there isn't a way to stop the transformation, it's going to kill you before your pack manages to get past my flock." Aello sneered, skin blossoming black. "I want to see the look in Derek Hale's eyes when the last thing he cares about in this world is ripped away from him." She paused, wings unfurling in anticipation. "They're here."
Stiles knew from what happened to Polly that he'd experience each of the harpies' deaths like it was his own, and wow, he was really rolling in the clichés now.
They can fix me, Scott said they can stop it, Stiles told himself.
Annd there was the head-splitting agony, right on cue.
Stiles remembered fragments of time between the room with the harpy and waking up in the hospital, doped to the gills in morphine and scantily clad in a paper gown. No more black skin, no more changing bone structure—the stitches had returned and so had the wound on his head, like he'd never almost been changed into a he-bird. He had vague recollections of being soaked in blood and pain, seeing an old tin ceiling and then vast sky and tall trees—the house Aello had kept him in was falling down around her ears. He remembered being carried through the woods amidst constant apologies and snarling and frantic voices, pleading with him to hang on, don't give up.
Now, Stiles opened his eyes, figured out he wasn't dead, and immediately tried to sit up. He was prevented from doing so by a pair of lethal-looking knitting needles pointing at his throat.
He exclaimed, "Whoa, holy crap!" but it came out sounding more like something about carp.
"What do you think you're doing?"
Stiles would've known that angelic and ticked off voice anywhere—Lydia was sitting at his bedside, strawberry-blonde locks perfectly styled, makeup on and eyes focused. She had a convoluted mess of yarn in her lap; it looked like something Clara Barton might've sewn during her drunken last call. "You stay right there, or so help me I will pin you down with these things and it won't be pretty."
Stiles blinked, swallowed, focused on making his words come out right. "You're… here. What's… I'm not dead?"
Lydia rolled her eyes. "You know, you guys don't tell me much, but I'm pretty sure I would've figured that one out for myself." She pressed a button, and the head of Stiles' bed lifted into a sitting position. "I've been sitting here knitting you hats for the past day and a half—you should be thrilled." She leaned closer and whispered, "The story is that you had a concussion and all those wounds, but you went out with Scott and Jackson and Danny for some lacrosse practice anyway. You went to find a ball you missed, got disoriented, wandered off into the woods and fell into a ravine. It took a while to find you." Wink, wink. "It's a wonder you don't have any broken bones, and that no wild animals came across you first."
Melissa McCall came in, and her face lit up at the sight of Stiles looking back at her. "Oh thank God, you're awake—how do you feel?"
Stiles glanced at Lydia, and tried not to grin when she patted his leg. "I guess I'm just glad a cougar didn't get me."
Everybody came to visit Stiles, leaving behind balloons and cards and so many teddy bears that he swore he felt his testicles trying to crawl back up into his body.
Erica brought copious amounts of glitter on one of her visits; Jackson stopped by for two minutes, spending that time flicking peanuts at Stiles from the corridor; Boyd occasionally sat in a corner and read magazines. Scott slept sprawled across Stiles' feet like a dog (har har) for the two days he spent in the hospital, while Stiles' dad took up residence in a chair. Knitted hats continued to accumulate at his bedside courtesy of Lydia, and whenever Allison popped in she glued frilly things to them. Stiles knew he'd never wear the hats, but hey, it really was the thought that counted.
Finally, the doctor said that he'd clear him to go home the next morning, providing Stiles promised not to do any more wandering around Beacon Hills for a while.
Stiles played along with the cover story and made sure he appeared contrite and dejected, but secretly he couldn't have been happier.
That night there was a tap on his bedroom window, a while after Stiles had crawled into bed. He sat up quickly—the stitches pulled and burned a little, but no longer hurt—and expected to see Derek on the other side of the glass.
His late-night visitor was Isaac.
Stiles let him in anyway. "What are you doing here?"
"Hi to you too." Isaac climbed inside and glanced around, taking in the posters on the walls and the cluttered desk, not to mention the piles of dirty laundry and homework on the floor. "Nice place." He paused. "Derek didn't know. About the harpies, I mean. Said that massacre Aello was raving about happened when he was a little kid, so he didn't really remember it, and it wasn't something his family talked about. He had no idea she was gunning for you to get to him."
"I believe all of that except for the last part," Stiles said, gesturing towards the bed. They both sat down, Isaac somewhat tentatively, hands folded in his lap. "He figured it out somewhere in this mess—probably at Scott's house, when I started changing. How did Dr. Deaton manage to stop that, anyway? Hoodoo magic? Secret undiscovered werewolf superpower?"
Isaac shook his head. "Nope—Derek just needed to kill the harpy that tried to change you before you died. We took care of the rest of 'em. That's why Scott was trying to get you over to the vet's, so we could come up with a plan." He smirked. "Congratulations on having your ass owned, by the way—she only stole you because you belong to him."
"That's a lot of lip coming from a pale-ass beanstalk." Stiles stood up and made a shooing motion towards the window; Isaac complied, throwing a leg over the sill. "Thanks for stopping by—now get back to those damn trolley cars before somebody sees you, like my father. The sheriff."
Isaac grinned in the dark and jumped out the window, landing gracefully in the bushes and sprinting off down the street.
Stiles was catching up on his backlogged homework at one A.M. when Derek finally dropped in. "I was wondering when you'd show up."
"You should be asleep."
"Yeah, well… I'm not." Stiles turned around in his desk chair and spread his arms, gesturing to the massive stack of papers next to him. "Instead I'm taking a chemistry test that's ten days late at this ungodly hour of the morning. If I knew what the hell I was doing, I'd feel all wise, like an owl."
Derek waited a beat, then came over and sat on the floor, leaning against a desk leg. "What kind of owl?"
Stiles was nothing short of shell-shocked—was super-growly Alpha werewolf Derek Hale encouraging one of his ridiculous tangents? He almost didn't know what to do. "Probably a barred owl, maybe a snowy owl—wow, you actually asked me that." He narrowed his eyes suspiciously. "Why?"
Derek's expression was as open as Stiles had ever seen it. "Because I don't know what I'm doing, either. Here. With you."
Stiles huffed out a laugh. "That's… reassuring. I guess I asked for the big gay elephant conversation, right? Yeah." In typical fashion, his mouth was moving faster than his brain. "Well, I'm not dying anymore, so you don't have to—"
Derek's hand was fisted in Stiles' shirt, yanking him down so they were almost eye-to-eye. "Do you really think," Derek began, speaking as if each word was being tortured out of him, "that I kissed you just because you were dying?"
Stiles bit his lip, noticing the way Derek's eyes flickered down and then back up. Tentatively, he curled his fingers around Derek's leather-clad arm, and responded, "So 'yes' would be the wrong answer, right?" Stiles watched the eyes in front of him flash red and dropped his gaze to the floor, absently comparing his bare feet to Derek's boot-clad ones. "No… I really hoped that wasn't the only reason, because I've noticed—" He used his other hand to make a vague flappy gesture. "—you and your face, for a while now, how could I not? Apparently you own me, too, or something, like that's not awkward. And you kept coming around, so I figured maybe…" He trailed off.
Derek was silent for a moment. "You figured right," he said quietly, loosening his grip on Stiles' shirt, but not pulling away. "Stiles, you've got to understand something—I'm not… I'm not good at this. At anything involving people, really. So I'm going to screw up, and I'm probably going to hurt you—not physically, but… but if you actually want whatever this is, it's never going to be normal."
Stiles snorted and replied, "Dude, I don't even know what normal is."
Whoa, apparently that was the right answer, because Derek was surging upwards and kissing Stiles. It was the opposite of their first kiss; this one was hot and dirty, with tongue and teeth and plenty of touching. Feeling like he needed to hang on for the ride, Stiles grabbed Derek's face, fingers cupping his jaw, and now he had a fucking werewolf arching into his touch, and Stiles was leaning down—
And falling out of his chair and right on top of the aforementioned werewolf, smashing their faces together in a semi-painful fashion.
Stiles groaned, cursing the klutziness that followed him around like the plague. "Shit. That's a boner killer right there. I think I bit my tongue. Although you were doing a pretty good job of that, so it's hard to tell." Derek was rumbling in a different way than usual, and it took Stiles a second to realize he was laughing. He hit him in the chest, hand bouncing off a pectoral muscle that felt like a brick. "Hey, the first time I hear you laugh it's at the expense of—"
"For once in your life," Derek said, pressing their mouths together again, "shut up."