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This Frail Humanity

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From the first crack of a rifle, it was chaos. There was no time to stop and regroup, there was only instinct pushing the pack to lunge, bite, twist and grab. Derek saw the battle in flashes of light followed by the booming sound of guns.

The hunters had come for the pack, and there would be no running this time. No hiding.

He heard Scott's deeper, Alpha growl, saw the blur of Isaac's claws swiping through the midsection of a hunter, smelled the sharp scent of bowels spilling onto the ground. And all around were the screams and shouts of humans, too many of them theirs: the Argents, Lydia, Danny, the Sheriff.

Derek's body obeyed his every command: muscles shifting and bunching, teeth rending, claws tearing. His blood sang with life, rushing through him and making him stronger, faster. He reveled in it, exulted in the power that flowed through him, even as he channeled it into taking out the enemy. His senses were alive, separating friend from foe in the fractions of seconds it took to decide whether to kill or protect.

He spun, his shoulder sliding against Chris Argent's, providing a shield and the extra second Argent needed to get off a shot, taking down one large hunter. He spun again and came away claws bloody as a body dropped to the dead leaves, heart silencing between one breath and the next. He pulled Isaac from the path of one of Allison's loosed arrows and watched in triumph as it pierced the skull of the hunter at which she'd been aiming.

And so the battle raged on.

Derek swung around after snapping one hunter's neck to see another with his gun pointed dead on at Cora. Howling a warning, he charged across the forest floor, panic lending him extra strength, extra speed, barely slowing when a bullet tore a line of fiery pain across his shoulder—but didn't penetrate, just a flesh wound. He was almost there, teeth bared, clawed hands extended, when the hunter squeezed the trigger.

Derek was an instant, a heartbeat, too late. Derek threw the hunter into a tree, hearing the dull, hollow sound of his skull caving in, but not sparing the body a glance as he turned toward Cora, grief already pooling in his gut.

But instead of Cora's bloody, life-less corpse, he saw her kneeling on the ground, screaming into a pale, shocky face. Saw droplets of blood splatter across her lips when the body she was holding coughed. Stiles.

Stiles, who had been running with the pack so long that it was almost second nature to turn in the midst of a fight to see him swinging wildly with a bat or tossing mountain ash around like it was sand in a playground.

Stiles, who should never have been here, who was supposed to be safe at home tonight.

The noise of the dwindling fight was lost to the sound of Stiles' stuttering heartbeat, the ragged, choked-off, gurgling rush of blood filling his lungs as he tried to breathe through the sucking bullet wound in his chest. Shock sent Derek to his knees beside Stiles.

He'd seen Stiles face death so many times, Derek had begun to think him impervious to it, so as Stiles' body shook in Cora's arms, disbelief flooded Derek. Stiles couldn't die. It wasn't possible.

He was...Stiles.

Like a bubble popping, noise rushed in at Derek again, and he heard Cora screaming at Stiles not to die, heard her gently slapping Stiles and calling him an idiot for throwing himself between her and a bullet. Heard the Sheriff's chilling wails as he finally saw what Derek had, and knew that his son was dying.

Cora looked at Derek, her eyes at once fierce and pleading. "Help him! He...don't let him die. Please!"

Derek was already leaning forward, teeth bared to give Stiles the bite when the cold rush of reality swamped him. He wasn't an Alpha. He couldn't do anything to save Stiles. Not...now. Helplessness punched through him, stealing his breath and leaving him aching. The steady flow of his own blood through his veins was a bitter mockery of the red-tinged foam that spilled from Stiles' mouth with every breath his body struggled to take.

Wrecked, he looked up at Cora. "I...I can't turn him. I can't..."

Cora reached one hand toward him, frantically grabbed his arm and pulled so his hand was splayed out over the bare, dirty skin of Stiles' abdomen. "Like you saved me. You can..."

"Get Scott," Derek said, hands shaking as he pressed them to Stiles' skin. "I don't know if this will... If it. Just, get Scott." But even as he said it, he knew he was simply sending her away, protecting her from witnessing the death of this brave idiot. Because there was no time for Scott, no time for the bite to take effect.

If this didn't work, Stiles would die here on the forest floor, one more soul to add to the list of those Derek hadn't been strong enough to save.

Derek pushed those thoughts down, drawing up the power and strength that flowed so freely through him. And then he concentrated, pushing everything he had at Stiles, willing everything in him into the human under his hands, hoping with the scraps of his faith that it would work. That it would be enough.

All around him, human hunters died, their frail bodies no match for the strength of his pack. Their wolfsbane bullets a puny defense against creatures nature had selected to be more powerful in every way.

Derek stared down into Stiles' eyes, watched as a tear overflowed his lashes and trailed down his temple to disappear into his hair, and he prayed. Prayed that his strength would be enough to save this human. This human who had saved him, annoyed him, bled with him.

This human who had seen the danger and thrown himself in the path of a bullet to save Cora.

To save Derek's remaining family.

Derek pushed his will into Stiles and prayed until the world went dark around him.

~*~

There was no time to think, no room to push Cora out of the way. Stiles knew Derek wasn't going to get to the hunter in time. So he jumped, wrapping his arms around Cora in a wildly off-balanced hug, and felt the ripping agony of the bullet smash into his back and puncture his lung.

It was white hot, burning, the pain so intense his vision went grey and spotty. He could feel the blood rushing into his lung and coughed to clear it out, but it kept coming. And he knew.

He was dying.

Cora screamed, he was jostled, and when his vision cleared, all he could see were Cora and Derek and the darkness of the treetops over their heads, blocking out the night sky. Then Cora was moving and Derek was filling the space, his face wretched as he said something about Scott.

Stiles stared up at Derek, latching onto his familiar face even as the pain in his chest overwhelmed him. It was fucking horrible, like every panic attack he'd ever had was simply a preview of his death.

Because he couldn't breathe. Every time his body tried to fill his lungs with air, he felt like he was drowning, fire filled his chest all over again, and then he'd cough and why couldn't he just fucking pass out already? Why was he still conscious?

Stiles wanted to escape the pain. He wanted the white light, the tunnel with his mom at the end of it. He wanted not to hear his dad screaming his name or see the twisted up panic on Derek's face. He wanted Scott to work some magic pain drain on him.

He wanted to close his eyes and stop fucking hurting.

He couldn't though because somewhere in him he knew if he did that he would die. That closing his eyes would be surrendering. That if he blinked, it would be nothing but an eternity of darkness.

So he focused on the pain, concentrated on Derek's eyes, choked on his own blood. A tear slipped from the corner of his eye—a response to pain or fear or aching sadness, maybe all of the above and everything else.

He wanted to tell Derek that it wasn't his fault, that none of it had been his fault.

Tell his dad he loved him, that he was sorry he hadn't been a better son.

He wanted to listen to the pack yell at him for coming out tonight. He wanted to tell them all how much they meant to him. But there was no breath for the tiniest word.

So he just watched Derek until, without even blinking, the world narrowed to a pinpoint of palest green and then faded into nothing.