He moves down the street at a sedate pace, brow furrowed, as he follows the easy pull of the line. The slight tug meaning to shift a pace to the left, the bob of movement warning of a sidewalk edge a pace ahead.
People overly familiar with guide dogs might be suspicious of their system, one they worked out through common sense and terse explanations rather than following any guidebook. But the differences are subtle, and this works for them.
As well as anything works for Stiles these days.
A familiar whuff of sound has Stiles putting his hand out, feeling for the rail to help him up the few steps to his door. He’s made it up, the hard part over, when he reaches into his pocket and fumbles the keys. They hit the step and skitter off behind them before going silent.
The dread that hits him, starting low in his belly and seeping out through him is totally irrational. They couldn’t have gone far – a step or two, or maybe into the grass at the edge of the walkway. He can handle this. He’s handled a hell of a lot worse than this.
“Fuck this,” he grits, dropping his backpack and his hold on the line. He feels carefully over the top step with his foot, inching forward to step down to the next one. He does this every day. He can handle this.
It’s on the second step, toeing his way across to feel for the keys, that he overestimates the length. And then he’s landing, knees and elbows, on hard concrete.
The sting in his skin isn’t bad – he’s been through worse, so much worse – but realizes he’s shaking, breaths going thin and shuddery. A two foot fall almost enough to shatter him.
He’s that fragile.
…Who is he kidding? He’d broken months ago.
Stiles will never forget the moment he first opens his eyes in the aftermath and sees only darkness.
The ground’s moving under him, swaying sickly… or maybe that’s in his head. He lets out a low groan, squinting upward, waiting vainly for his eyes to adjust. (His curtains aren’t dark enough to black out his bedroom like this, what the hell?)
…Except now that he thinks about it, he feels a lot more like he’s lying on a metal bench than a bed. And the last thing he remembers hadn’t been his bedroom. He’d been—
There’s a scramble of motion to the right of him, and he flinches from it until he hears Scott’s voice.
“Stiles. Stiles, you back with us, man?”
He turns his head, and a rush of nausea brings bile surging up his throat. Scott’s clutching one of his hands in both of his own, shushing Stiles while he swallows it back down, coughing at the burn. Every jolt of motion sends a fresh, sick throb shuddering through him.
“It’s ok, man. It’s ok.” There’s a hysterical lilt in Scott’s tone that seems to suggest the exact opposite.
A second shuffle of movement above him catches Stiles’ attention, a warm hand touching down on his nape. The contact is strangely soothing, and some of the throbbing in his skull starts to settle.
He’s not so paralyzed by pain now, and his hand clenches on Scott’s, cutting off his friend’s panicked rambling long enough to grit out: “What the hell’s going on, man? Why’s it so dark?”
There’s no immediate answer, and the world continues to rattle and sway under him.
“Scott, we got out, right? We’re not in some freaky temple prison waiting to be re-Berserker-ized?”
Scott lets out a sharp, shuddering breath, and the hand on his nape shifts to start soothing the space right behind his left ear. It feels amazing and, seriously, had his head ever been hurting? He doesn’t think he can even remember what pain is right now.
He lets his eyes drift closed, settling into the endorphin high, the magical contact that’s transforming the sickening sway of motion into something almost soothing.
He’s almost forgotten his own question by the time a new voice breaks in, a familiar low rumble.
“We’re not locked up anywhere, Stiles. Everyone’s here, we’re heading back to Beacon Hills right now.”
His eyes shoot back open (pointlessly, in this black space), his free hand darting to grasp at a muscled bicep.
They’d left Derek back there on the ground, gaping holes in his chest, smiling bravely as he bled out.
The warm thumb – Derek’s thumb – soothes down his nape again, fresh threads of pain bleeding away with the contact. Distantly, Stiles knows there’s something wrong with that, but it takes way too long, past the jumbled mass of confusion, adrenaline, and blissed out, pain-draining induced comfort, to realize what the problem is.
The touch drags behind his ear, along a tendon to a part of his shoulder he hadn’t even realized was hurting until the pain bleeds out. The groan that slips out edges on filthy, and in his mad scramble to distract from that awkwardness, he lands on the question that had been evading him.
“…Hey, how are you doing that?”
“Werewolves can draw out pain.” Derek’s voice is unbearably gentle, like Stiles is the one who’d just been impaled through the chest (and seriously, what’s going on with that? How long had Stiles been out?) He huffs an exasperated breath because yeah, his head might hurt but he’s not a total idiot.
“Ok, but you’re not…” His breath catches. “Wait, you… how?”
From back at his side, Scott jumps in brightly.
“Yeah, it’s pretty cool man. He can go total wolf now, you’ve gotta see—“
He cuts off strangely, leaving the sentence hanging in a way that seems significant, even if Stiles has no clue why. Maybe it’s the magic wolf pain drain that’s making his brain fuzzy, making everything drag so slow and not quite make sense, that’s stopping the pieces from fitting into any coherent picture.
A few seconds pass, tension thick in the air, before Derek says “We don’t know yet.” It’s clearly not directed at Stiles, judging by the pained sound Scott makes. And that’s… unnerving.
“What? What don’t we know?” The long silences are getting seriously painful, about as painful as things can get with the pain literally being sapped out of Stiles through the base of his skull and his hand. “Hey guys, can we turn on a light or something? I don’t know if you guys have got some sort of night vision werewolf eyebrow conversation going on, but just ‘cause you’ve got your super senses back, doesn’t make it fair to exclude us mere mortals, k?”
A few more seconds pass, the ground rattling under him, until Scott murmurs, “Get some rest, man. Ok?”
And he’d argue, he’d totally argue because being left in the dark – literally and figuratively – really isn’t cool, and since both Scott and Derek understand what it’s like being a hapless human they should totally know better. But he is tired, and his thoughts are moving too sluggishly to pull out a coherent argument. And he’s getting the impression that Derek’s fingers are probably sucking a hell of a lot of pain out of his skull.
It’s really nice.
So he just grunts his displeasure before sliding his eyes closed, letting the sway of the transport van lull him back to sleep.
“Cortical blindness,” Melissa is saying, from a great distance. “There’s no damage to the eyes, themselves, but the blow to his skull caused severe swelling in his brain. We can hope, but at this point there’s no knowing if he’ll ever…”
He dreams, sometimes, of his last moments of seeing. They’re right at the crest of their victory: Peter defeated, Scott and Kira rescued and in one piece. Making their way back outside, Stiles at the front, moving too fast and thinking maybe, maybe if he hurries, maybe he won’t be too late. Maybe, if nothing else, he’ll at least be able to say—
It swings around the corner, huge and fierce in its bleached skull mask. Scott’s shouting a warning too late as Stiles skids to a stop, starts to scramble backward. Too slow, its arm lifting, and
There’s a soft snuffing noise next to Stiles’ ear, jogging his mind out of its panic state. A jangle of metal, the keys being recovered, being nosed down against Stiles’ panic-clenched hand.
He doesn’t move, can’t move, the ground swaying under him sickly. Such a stupid mistake, a small miscalculation and now, now…
The keys drop down right on top of his hand, and the imploring whuff turns into something more demanding as a snout firmly nudges against his shoulder. Stiles’ body rocks to the right and he lets out a shaky breath, grabs the keys, forcing himself back to his feet.
The journey back up the steps to his door feels more perilous than it had only moments ago, and he’s shaking all over again by the time he jabs the key into the lock and twists the door open, stalking inside.
The front hall is a cavern of the familiar and the uncertain. Had his dad left anything on the floor, careful as he tries to be, to trip Stiles up? Is Stiles misjudging the distance to the front closet? He doesn’t allow himself to slow down anyway, to show any hint of insecurity, as soft footsteps pad in behind him, as the door swings closed.
“I’m fine. It’s fine. It was nothing.”
Keys in bowl, shoes off, under table. Don’t just drop them, do it the proper way, left next to right. Derek’s moving behind him, shuffling fabric – the clothes he’d left behind before they’d gone out.
Stiles is just straightening up when something is dropped down, gently, next to his shoes. He feels out with his foot, frowning.
His backpack. He would’ve forgotten it out there on the porch. He would’ve gone looking for it later, torn apart his bedroom and the front hall searching for it. One thing out of place and everything falls apart.
He’s shaking again, this time with anger. Shaking at being so stupid, so clumsy. He can’t afford that anymore. Clumsy means you trip, you lose things, you get lost, get hurt.
A hand brushes his shoulder and he jolts back, stumbling into the table holding his keys. They rattle but don’t fall. The hand catches his arm before he trips backward over his own backpack, steadying him.
“Stiles, you don’t have to…”
The words are coming out a low rumble, soft and soothing in a way that makes his skin crawl. He tugs backward again and, after a second, the hand lets him go.
“I’m fine. Look, you got me home safe, you did your civic duty for the day.”
He laughs, aiming for amused, hits on something closer to desperately bitter.
“I’m scraped. That happens to humans sometimes. Us normal humans, without magical super wolf healing powers. If you even remember what that’s like.”
A short pause, and then, “I remember.”
Bleeding out on the ground, chest a shredded mess of cloth and blood. His skin going sallow even as he catches Stiles gaze, holds it frantically.
Stiles turns, huffing darkly.
“Sure you do. Just… get the hell out of here, Derek.”
There’s a few seconds of hesitation before Derek starts to move back – carefully audible footfalls – and pauses again by the door.
“Call me if you want to go out tonight.”
“Scott’s on Stiles duty tonight. You can have it off.” He shouldn’t be snapping like this, not at Derek, not when he’s gone out of his way to help him the way he is. Not when Stiles is really mad at a dozen things that are completely out of Derek’s control.
It’s not his fault his wounds from La Iglesia had healed. That he’d come out of the nightmare stronger than ever, and Stiles had ended up like this.
“Just call me,” Derek says again, and Stiles bites down on another angry retort, chin jutting out in a tight nod, jaw clenching until Derek leaves.
He sees shadows sometimes, in his right eye. Melissa says that’s because one side of his brain sustained more damage than the other. He guesses he’s probably supposed to be grateful that it was only his sight that was affected and not his memory, or other bodily functions.
And it is good. Objectively, it’s really lucky that the Berserker went for a blow instead of using its hell spike of doom. Objectively, he knows he could’ve easily ended up like Derek… except he wouldn’t have had a magical wolf resurrection to save him.
He’s lucky he came out of Mexico with as little damage as he did. That he’s alive at all.
Objectively, he knows that.
He’s been discharged from the hospital for six hours, the doctors having done what they could (squat) and sending him away broken.
Derek’s in the room.
Stiles would like to say that there’s some kind of ‘one sense gone, the others get heightened’ Daredevil thing going on to tell him that, but the gust of cool air from the open window would alert him even if the wolf had been trying to move silently, which he obviously isn’t. He doesn’t speak (typical) but he drops into the room on heavy feet, much louder than he’s ever been before. It’s probably meant as a kindness, but it just puts Stiles on edge.
Derek’s never gone out of his way to be kind to Stiles before.
“You bring any flowers?” He says, not bothering to shift from his place on the bed. His eyes stay closed; he feels less like the darkness is swallowing him that way. “They’re popular for condolences. You know, RIP Stiles’ eyesight. You served him well those first seventeen years. Except for that time you didn’t see the Berserker coming fast enough, but you paid the price for that one, huh?”
“Melissa said it might come back.” Derek’s voice sounds gruff in a way Stiles has never heard it before. Almost tentative.
“She said that to give my dad hope.”
“You don’t know that.”
“I know enough.” He knows that hoping would just make things worse for him. Maybe it gives his dad something to cling to, gives him time to ease into the idea of Stiles’ condition, but if Stiles lets himself think for a second that this isn’t it… he’ll never even try to adjust.
Not that he’s doing a lot on the “adjusting” front yet, lying on his bed with his eyes closed for the past four hours.
“What are you doing here, Derek?”
There’s a hesitant pause before “I wanted to see you.”
A dozen different lines come to mind, each snarkier than the last, but he settles for a derisive snort. Derek huffs an impatient breath back at him instead of responding, and it’s the most Derek way he’s responded to Stiles since Mexico.
His eyes flit open, instinctively searching out those impatiently lifted brows, and slam shut again a second later, the brief flash of good humor swallowed down by the blackness beyond his lids.
“Shouldn’t you be out on the road, tracking down the Desert Wolf or whatever?”
There’s a shift of movement, the bed rocking slightly as Derek settles down next to him. It’s bizarre, impossible to picture, and the urge to look is back so fast he barely clamps down in it, squeezing his eyes more tightly shut and tilting his face away.
“I decided to stay.” It’s just a statement of fact. No tone, no weight behind the words, but Stiles flinches anyway.
“No one asked you to.”
Derek doesn’t respond to that, unless you count fingers lifting to brush across Stiles’ temple a response. Stiles definitely doesn’t. He rolls away from it, sitting up slowly.
“I’m not in pain.”
“You were grimacing.”
He pushes himself off the bed, stalks a step away, and freezes, feeling suddenly adrift in the familiar space of his own room. He knows this space, it should be muscle memory to him, but now that he’s stopped to think about it he has no idea how to get anywhere. How many steps to his door? And how many to the stairs? And… god, how many stairs are there? How the hell is he supposed to survive this if he can’t make it to his own kitchen?
There’s a hand on his elbow and a voice in his ear.
“Breathe. Stiles, breathe.”
And he’s frozen, locked in the darkness a pace away from his bed, in the house he’s lived in his whole life, and totally lost.
Derek’s in front of him, gripping both arms now, and Stiles realizes his eyes have fallen open and he’s not there, Derek’s not there, there’s just blackness in front of him, blackness all around him, an entire future of blackness awaiting him and he can’t, he can’t breathe, how does Derek expect him to breathe in this darkness?
Black, dark, voidvoid—No.
He can’t let his mind go there. He’s not in a void, he’s not alone. Derek’s right here in front of him, holding him (holding him up, he realizes too late – his legs have abandoned him but Derek hasn’t).
He’s clutching at Derek’s arms, being pulled up against his chest in a way that might almost be a hug, except that it’s Derek and Derek’s still murmuring “breathe, Stiles” in between slow, exaggerated breaths of his own. Stiles finds the rhythm of Derek’s chest and remembers how to draw in air.
It takes forever for his legs to feel like they have a chance of holding him again, and an eternity after that for his fingers to unclench from Derek’s arms. Derek’s hands are smoothing absently down Stiles’ sides, an anchor in a sea of blackness.
When he starts to pull back Stiles almost whines, manages to swallow it down but settles for just gripping his arms harder. Which is exactly as pathetic, but it’s the best he can manage. Derek’s not letting go, though, sliding his hands to rest on Stiles’ elbows.
“Where are we going?” he asks simply, and it takes Stiles a few seconds to process that.
“You got up, so where are we going?”
And somehow, he makes it sound simple.
‘Storming out dramatically’ doesn’t exactly work as an answer, though, so instead he murmurs “kitchen.” And lets Derek fold one arm into his own and lead him to the door.
The twenty three year old former person of interest (charges dropped or no) leading him around would be hard to explain in some public places. Derek gained the wolf when Stiles lost his vision; it seems like a sensible compromise.
The scrape on Stiles’ left elbow burns. He can feel the dampness of blood on his sleeve, knows he should probably deal with it somehow. But even though he can make his way to the bathroom without a problem, even though he could get out the first aid kit, they haven’t worked out a system yet to tell him which tube holds antiseptic. So he just opts for rinsing off the scrapes, changing clothes, and hoping for the best.
He’s in his room, tugging his shirt off, when:
“You should really bandage those.”
He nearly jumps out of his skin, the shirt going flying in the direction of the voice.
“What the hell, Derek?”
“You wouldn’t have noticed me when you had your sight either.” It comes out a touch petulant, maybe. Tones other than dry sarcasm are hard to pick up on Derek, but Stiles is getting better at it. When you can’t rely on expressions, you start to realize how much voices can tell you. “I thought you didn’t want charity.”
“I thought you’d left.”
He realizes he’s shirtless and pauses for a second, resets his mental map of the bedroom, and takes two more steps to reach his dresser. Plain shirts in the top drawer, black on the right edge. Graphic tees are in the next drawer down, but Stiles isn’t sure he wants to chance with them right now. Most days he doesn’t care what he ends up with, but he doesn’t want to risk putting on a too cheerful slogan when he’s feeling this bitter.
Derek lets out a quiet sound that could mean anything and pads audibly over to Stiles’ bed. It doesn’t seem like he’s there for any reason other than to piss Stiles off, and Stiles refuses to let himself be unsettled.
He pulls the shirt on, wincing at the sting against both of his elbows, decides against changing his jeans for the time being, and crosses the room to flop on the bed next to Derek.
Because that’s where Stiles had been planning on going before Derek got here, and fuck Derek very much if he thought Stiles was going to change his brooding plans on his account.
His eyes fall closed, and for a few precious minutes he almost lets himself forget.
“It’s not charity.”
The words somehow come out slowly and too fast at the same time, forcing him back to reality. Stiles’ eyes drift open, take in the blackness overhead. The anger from earlier has slid away somehow, lost up there in the darkness.
He’d never been mad at Derek anyway.
“Yeah it is. I’m a charity case, Derek, I get that.”
Derek’s quiet again for a while, and Stiles settles in to watching the blackness above his head play against the slightly less dark blackness in his right eye. It must be around sunset; that had always lit his room up ridiculously.
“When I lost my wolf,” Derek starts, and everything in Stiles goes on high alert. Derek doesn’t start conversations. He definitely doesn’t start conversations about anything personal. And it shows, because as fast as Derek begins he stalls out again. Nearly half a minute passes before he exhales loudly, murmurs: “When I lost my wolf, I felt like an invalid. I’d never been without my senses like that, been that weak, that deaf, that blind.”
Stiles shifts, finds himself staring toward Derek. Wishing he could know what’s happening on his face right now. What does Derek look like when he opens up about his past?
He fights down a ridiculous urge to trail a hand across his face.
“What was normal for you before… it felt unbearable to me. I didn’t know how you could even survive like that, how you could stand scrapes that stayed with you for days, how you could ever let your guard down when you couldn’t hear someone standing in the same room with you.”
A smirk touches Stiles’ lips.
“Is this where you tell me if I survived being an average human I could survive anything?”
Derek lets out a slow breath, and Stiles feels it against his face.
“I got used to it,” he says instead. “Or was getting used to it. If I’d had to stay without my wolf forever… I would’ve been ok. It took time, but I found a new normal.”
Stiles wants to protest that it’s not the same thing. That Derek hadn’t lost a whole sense, things had just dulled out a little for him. That sight is the most important sense, damn it, and Derek’s sight had still been pretty ok.
But underneath the petty urge for denial, he knows that’s all semantics. Derek had lost much of what he’d relied on his whole life; he’d had to rethink his whole world.
And he’d been ok. Been on his way to being ok.
Derek lets out a soft sound Stiles can’t explain, and then, “And you’ve never been an average human.”
Fingers brush across his temple, and Stiles’ next breath shudders out loud.
“I’m not in pain.”
The fingers drag down his cheek.
He stops fighting the urge, his hand going up to touch Derek’s face. Familiar lines made unfamiliar by touch – rough stubble and smooth, angled features underneath. He’s twisting to his side before he can think about it, his other hand going out to touch Derek’s temple, to run along his thick brows, a smile touching his lips as they furrow slightly at the contact.
Derek’s thumb is still brushing absently across his cheek.
His lips are slightly parted… and, ok, he’s touching Derek’s lips now. They’re strangely soft in contrast with the stubble all around them, and he thinks maybe he wants to touch them with something else, maybe wants them to touch him all over. Derek’s next breath comes out a little heavy, his eyebrow doing this odd little dance against Stiles’ hand. He tries to picture the expression by what he’s parsing from the contact, and it feels like one he’s maybe caught glimpses of before. In fragments, in instants, in agonizing moments when everything else felt like it was breaking apart, when he hadn’t had time to think about it or assign significance.
“When I walked away that day I kept thinking… I didn’t want to go. I kept thinking it might be the last time I saw you.” He quirks his lips a little, quick and ironic, and Derek’s smoothing thumb touches the edge of his smile.
“You’re seeing me now.”
His voice is open, strangely vulnerable. His features are soft under Stiles’ hands.
“I feel like I kind of am.”
Derek’s palm comes down to cup Stiles’ cheek, big and warm and a little rough, but grounding.
A strange sort of tension has settled over them, strange in that it isn’t strange, in that touching Derek, letting Derek touch him, seems almost like an epilogue to a story that’s been carrying itself out for months. He’s been trusting Derek not to lead him astray since February, so he trusts those soft features, that open voice, the warmth of Derek’s breath coming from bare inches in front of him.
“I really don’t want to miss your mouth,” he murmurs, and it sounds ridiculous coming out but Derek just laughs and leans forward.
The kiss is anything but an epilogue, a slow drag of long built tension and sliding tongues. Stiles’ eyes drift closed and for once it doesn’t feel like hiding – whole worlds opening up for him in the sensation of hard muscle through soft fabric, the warm, easy pressure of Derek’s mouth. Derek’s hand slides back to grip his nape, tilting his head so that stubble scrapes across his lips and shocks all the way down to his core.
He pulls back, feeling loose limbed and shuddery, and strangely sated at the same time. He’s probably smiling too wide, ducks his head until Derek nuzzles against his temple and presses his own grin into Stiles’ cheek. The shuddery twist in his gut transforms into a flutter.
“Oh god, ok if we’re kissing now you’re definitely leading me around town as a person.”
Derek huffs, nips lightly at Stiles’ jaw.
“I think I stand out less as a wolf.”
“Screw people’s opinions, I’m not making out with my guide dog.”
He doesn’t have to see Derek to guess his expression at that: the way he leans back a little, breath puffing loudly, just screams of a disapproving scowl. Stiles smirks right back, hands curling in Derek’s hair.
“My guide wolf,” he corrects, as though that’s the part of the comment Derek was taking issue with. “Hey, what color is my guide wolf, anyway?”
“Black,” Derek says after what he probably thinks is a punishing pause.
“Of course you are.”
“My hair’s black,” Derek points out. “It makes sense.”
“You’re black because your grouchy brooding self wouldn’t have it any other way and you know it.”
“Is that what I am,” Derek murmurs, curling closer. “Grouchy, brooding?”
“Scowling, moody,” Stiles agrees readily, leaning tentatively forward until he finds Derek’s mouth again. When he draws back he adds, faint and wondering, “Mine?”
“Your guide wolf,” Derek agrees, and draws him back forward.
Stiles follows the pull.