All things considered, Derek thinks he’s a relatively stable young man. Accounting for the fact that he’s a werewolf, his psychotic girlfriend burned his family alive, his uncle completely lost it and killed his sister, and he’s the babysitter for a pack of teenage supernatural beings. Really, he’s done pretty well so far.
But apparently, all it takes to push him over that final edge, is for one human, who Derek will swear with every breath he has that he does not care about, to disappear.
It takes them three days to realize that Stiles is missing. It is not so much that they don’t notice his absence, but when no one hears from him on Saturday or Sunday they all assume he is busy catching up on schoolwork or taking advantage of one of the few weekends Derek hasn’t called the pack together and relaxing, or spending time with his dad. It’s not until he fails to show up to school on Monday that Jackson’s brows crease and Allison bites her lip and Lydia glances over her shoulder as if he’ll be there if she only looks one more time. Scott frowns and sends a text between every class, all of which go unanswered. All four go to Stiles’ house after school, but only Scott goes to the door, the others waiting in the car with eyes and ears trained anxiously on the Stilinski house.
Sheriff Stilinski goes still and quiet when Scott asks casually where Stiles is. He hadn’t noticed either. Not for lack of caring, but he had been working double shifts and when he came home late to find the house dark and quiet he assumed that Stiles had gone to bed early, and when he failed to see him on his way out in the morning he assumed he was sleeping still, and when he stumbled in on Sunday night and saw no sign of his son, he figured he had gone to stay at a friend’s, as he had done so many times before.
Scott’s mouth is dry as he turns slowly to look at the teenagers standing on the other side of the street beside their cars. They all share a look of horror. No one has seen Stiles for three days.
They all have the same initial instinct, so they listen to it. They go to Derek. Their alpha will surely know what to do, will lead them to Stiles who will smile and tell them they were stupid for worrying and Derek will growl and they’ll all laugh and watch over each other just a little bit closer.
When they all pile into Derek’s house, he can smell their anxiety. They somehow manage to stammer out an explanation that Stiles is missing, no one has seen him, no one can find him, what do they do? Derek tenses, but says nothing even as he strides past them and into his car, driving away and leaving his pack to stand uncertainly in the husk of the Hale house.
The trail is old, and even Derek has trouble picking it up. But he does.
Two hours after walking out of his house, Derek walks back in. The four teens he had left behind all leap to their feet just in time for Derek to speak and their blood to run cold.
“There’s another pack.”
The first time it happens, Stiles has been gone for five days and Derek hasn’t slept for two. He goes into the bathroom to wash his face and when he looks into the mirror he is standing behind him. But when Derek turns around he is alone.
Scott’s anger is loud. It is shoving Jackson against a wall and snarling and practically screaming with rage. It’s frightening, sure, to hear all that anger. But Derek’s anger is tangible.
The entire pack can feel it, pulsating through the room as their leader stands with his muscles coiled like a snake and they feel it, his fury, his rage, they breath it in as it fills the space.
Lydia and Allison pull Scott off of Jackson, always keeping one eye on Derek who still hasn’t moved, who is still radiating a desire to rip something apart at the seams. Jackson’s body slides so that he is crouching on the floor against the wall, eyes wide with fear and guilt, still favoring his left side while the werewolf healing works its magic. “I’m sorry. There were too many of them, I barely even heard them coming. I tried to fight back, I swear, but they just…” He is shaking. He doesn’t know what to do. “They laughed. And their alpha said…” He swallowed painfully, “she said he was pretty. Then they just ran and I tried to follow them I swear but my leg hadn’t healed and I ju-“
It is the first words Derek has spoken since Jackson returned to the Hale mansion alone. Stiles has been gone over a week. Nine days, to be exact. The other pack’s trail led everywhere, scattered and forking and they spent days splitting up and coming together, trying desperately to find their packmate. The sheriff had more units than was probably wise dedicated to looking for his son, his eyes drowning in desperation and his breath always containing just the slightest hint of whiskey. But it was Jackson who finally found them, and Jackson who came home to them bruised and bleeding and telling a story of an alpha with eyes like a child who loved new toys and thought Stiles smelled like love and lust, human and wolf and she wanted to taste it.
When Derek takes a step forward, the entire pack flinches back. “What did you smell?”
Jackson knows what he is asking, and he straightens his back, eyes hardening with resolve. “He’s alive. I could still smell him on her.”
Hope is not lost, and Derek does not need to sleep yet. “No one is to go out alone anymore, do you understand? Stay together when you can, in pairs when you have to. And Allison is never alone. She’s either with us, or hunters. We’re not losing anyone else.” He pauses. “We’re not losing anyone. Go home and rest. Tomorrow we’re going to work on a plan, a real plan, not just tracking them down and fighting it out. We need to do this smart, understand?”
He receives four nods, and dismisses them, Lydia keeping an arm around Jackson and Allison leading Scott by the hand. The door clicks shut softly behind them.
“Pretty? Really? Can’t anyone find a cool adjective to describe me?”
Derek whips around so fast he hears his neck crack. Stiles raises an eyebrow from where he is leaning against the kitchen doorway. “Wow. Even I heard that. Can a werewolf give himself whiplash? Cause if so I think that’s totally what you just did.”
“…Stiles? What the Hell?!” In the blink of an eye Derek is reaching out, eyes flashing red and teeth bared, fully prepared to slam the idiotic human against the wall as he has so many times before.
His hands grasp air, and he runs face first into the wall.
“Ugh!” Derek clutches his nose, one hand bracing himself as he blinks rapidly.
“Oooh, that looked like it hurt. Not so fun when you don’t have someone to cushion you from your own rage, huh?”
Derek looks back at Stiles, and when did he get behind him? Now that he’s thinking of it, how did Stiles get inside without him, without anyone noticing? The alpha takes a deep breath to try to steady his thoughts when he suddenly freezes.
“I can’t smell anything.” But that’s not right. He can smell the house, the bitter scent of ash that he’s never been able to wash away, and the lingering scents of his pack, of perfume and deodorant, and the forest trees and the gasoline in his Camaro. “I can’t smell you.”
“Really? Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Like, do I normally smell bad? Do I smell bad to you? Is that why you scowl at me all the time? Oh God, I’m so sorry-“
The older man growls and reaches out to grab the boy’s shoulder. He feels nauseous when his hand goes right through him. Like Stiles isn’t even there. Derek swallows a few times, doing everything in his power to stay cool, stay calm, even though he’s pretty sure he’s already reached the internal screaming point.
“What’s going on?”
Stiles cocks his head to the side, thinking. He’s wearing a ratty pair of jeans and a red hoodie over a grey t-shirt. Derek’s stomach flips when he realizes that Stiles looks exactly like he did the last time Derek saw him.
“I’m pretty sure it’s some kind of cosmic rule that I’m not supposed to tell you.”
Derek blinks. “Excuse me?”
“I dunno.” Stiles shrugs, “Like, I’m pretty sure stuff like this only happens if you’re in need of an epiphany or something. Either way, it’s not like it matters that much, right?”
“Um, YES. It matters a lot!” Derek finds himself exclaiming despite himself. “I mean am I crazy or…” the words crack a bit and he takes a moment to steel himself, “are you a ghost? Are you… dead?”
“God, I hope not.” Stiles looks at Derek wide eyed and throws his hands up in a peacemaking gesture. “No offence. Not that I don’t like seeing you or anything. Which is not to say that I do like seeing you any more than anyone else it’s just, I sorta had plans to see someone else in the event of my untimely demise.”
For a moment, Derek furrows his brows before shaking his head slightly, trying to organize his thoughts, stay focused. “But… you don’t know?” He pauses. “Wait, I get it. I know what this is.” A shallow laugh is pulled from his throat. “Hell I’m not even surprised. I mean, I’ve gotten what, five hours of sleep in the last week? Of course I’m hallucinating!” He backs away from the figure, heading towards his room. “I just need sleep. That’s all. Then you’ll be gone.”
“Aw, and here I thought you were trying to get me back.”
The werewolf feels his stomach drop. “I wasn’t… that’s not what I… you’re not real.”
“Well, if you’re gonna be picky about it, sure. But that doesn’t mean I’m not good company.”
For a moment, they just stare at each other. And then, Derek starts laughing. And yeah, it’s a little hysterical, and his eyes seem a bit glassy, but Stiles still looks a bit scared and Derek absolutely blames sleep deprivation.
“I miss you, Stiles.” He blames sleep deprivation for that, too. Which is why he doesn’t wait for not-Stiles to respond, instead simply turning around and walking up the stairs to his room. He feels stupid when this does not make his problems go away.
“Derek? Derek, wait!” Stiles is suddenly walking beside him, blinking owlishly. “You miss me? Really? I kind of assumed that you’d be pretty okay with my absence, what with my constant annoying you and your constant threats of dismemberment.”
“So what, you thought I’d just leave you with some insane werewolf?” Derek growls back, despite telling himself that there was nothing really there.
Stiles cocks his head. “Well, no. I mean I figured Scott, if no one else, would probably drag you all into attempting to rescue my sorry ass from yet another crazy Alpha. And seriously, are you the only sane one? Is it like, the norm in werewolf culture for Alphas to be completely off their rockers? And not even in a fun, cool way. It’s like there’s some competition between Alphas on who can be the creepiest. Thank you for not participating in that by the way.”
By now, they have reached Derek’s room, and the older man allows himself a moment to just collapse face-down onto his bed, which is really just a mattress on the floor covered in an obscene amount of blankets.
Not bothering to lift his head, Derek points at where Stiles is standing, his voice muffled by the mattress. “I’m not dignifying that with a response. You’re not real. I’m going to sleep, and you’re going to be gone in the morning.”
“For what it’s worth, I miss you too.”
Derek doesn’t get any sleep that night.
“Wow, you look even worse than before. When is the rest of the pack coming? Did you even set a time? Oh my God you totally didn’t, Derek details are important. ‘Tomorrow’ is vague, what if Lydia shows up at dawn and Scott shows up at 8 at night? You couldn’t even tear him apart, literally or figuratively because technically he did what you asked. Are you going to eat breakfast? Do you even have food here? What about electricity? There is no way this place can be sanitary not to mention I’m pretty sure I’ve seen at least twelve safety code violations in this room alone. Is this place even structurally sound? Derek how are you even alive?”
“ENOUGH!” Derek slams his hands against the counter in his kitchen. He closes his eyes and pinches the bridge of his nose. Stupid ghost-hallucination-Stiles is still there, and he can’t even shove him against a wall to make him shut up like he normally would. It is beyond frustrating.
Turning abruptly, Derek glares at the other boy, “Shut. Up. The pack will be over later, noon is our standard meeting time unless I say otherwise. So I have six hours to eat and drown in coffee while I try to figure out what I’m supposed to do about you.” He pauses. “God, what am I supposed to do about you?”
“Meditate? Clear your mind? Oh! Can I be your Yoda?”
Derek looks at Stiles like he’s crazy, the irony of which does not fail to make Derek cry a little on the inside. “What?”
Stiles is nodding enthusiastically, “Yeah! I can totally be, like, your spirit guide or something.” He cocks his head to the side, “Dude, what color are your eyes even supposed to be?”
The werewolf’s jaw drops before he catches himself and snaps it shut, “What?”
“Seriously, I never really notice them unless they’re, you know, all red and alpha-scary, but when you’re just normal, well, as normal as you get, I can’t really tell. Are they brown or green? Hazel? What is hazel, anyway?”
Derek allows himself a moment to gape. He is technically alone, after all. “Alright, what is up with you? You’re being even weirder than the real Stiles.”
Stiles shrugs before pausing, spinning in a circle, and shrugging again, “Sorry. Guess it’s just been awhile.”
“What?” Derek feels like he’s been saying that a lot today.
“Well, you know,” Stiles gestures vaguely with his hands, continuing when he notices the blank look on Derek’s face, “I was kidnapped, right? So they didn’t exactly give me a chance to grab anything important. Like, you know. Medication. Adderall.” He pauses again, “Real-Stiles is probably going through a bit of withdrawl by now.”
“Wha-“ Derek stops. He needs to expand his vocabulary. “How can you-“ He pauses again before slumping down to sit on the floor, back against the kitchen cabinets. “Okay. Alright, we can work with this. So… so you can’t be a ghost, I guess, because you’re talking about your body. I think. But… how do you know that? How can my hallucination need medication?”
“Weeell…” Stiles shrugs, “If I AM a manifestation of your subconscious, then maybe the whole ‘no Adderall’ thing is something you’ve been thinking of without, you know, actually realizing it.”
Derek nods, “I suppose that makes sense… considering it’s coming from my hallucination and oh my God how is this my life?” His head sinks into his hands because seriously, how is this his life?
“There, there, Derek. Everything will be alright. You just need some food, and maybe some more sleep before the others show up. But mostly food, that solves at least, like, ninety percent of all problems. Do you have waffles?”
Derek lets his head fall back, hitting the cabinet doors with a ‘thud’. How is this his life?
A few hours later, Derek jerks awake. He had only managed a small breakfast before deciding to go back to bed to try to get at least a little sleep. Looking at the digital clock on the floor beside him, he sees it is just about ten in the morning. He feels better now that he is at least a little more rested. Glancing around the room, the werewolf tries to figure out what exactly pulled him from his sleep. When his eyes finally fall on the cause, his heart sinks just a little. Because Stiles is still there.
Looking a bit closer, he frowns. Stiles is sitting against the wall across from Derek’s bed. He has his knees drawn close to his body, his arms wrapped protectively around them. His eyes seem vacant, and far away, and Derek can see steady shivers wracking the other boy’s body.
For a moment, the Alpha turns his gaze to the blankets around him, and considers ignoring the figment and going back to sleep. After all, it’s not really Stiles. There’s no one there. There is no one there. And yet, no matter how many times he tells himself that, he still cannot seem to stop himself from looking back up.
“What’s wrong?” He receives no response, except for an increase in the other’s shivering. It takes him only seconds to find himself sitting beside Stiles, looking into the face he knows is not there, while Stiles stares at the floor in front of him. “Stiles?”
His arms tighten around his knees. “I’m cold.”
Derek blinks. “What do you mean?”
But Stiles simply shakes his head. “I’m cold.”
They sit quietly together until the first of the pack arrives two hours later.
“Okay,” Derek stands before the four teens sitting on his couch, pointedly ignoring the figure standing behind them, giving Derek an encouraging thumbs up, “the pack is moving. I don’t know where, or how far. They might still be just somewhere in this forest, but either way they’re not staying in one place longer than a night at a time. The advantage to this is that wherever they are, they wont be anymore familiar with their surroundings then we’ll be.”
“Confusion and mayhem, good start! I like this plan already!” Stiles chimes in.
“Yeah, but we still have to find them and that takes time.” Scott’s voice is tight with anxiety, with the need to do something right this very second, “And they’re werewolves too, so we wont have any element of surprise cause they’ll just hear us coming, or smell us, or whatever.”
“Ooh, good point. Super-werewolf-senses actually working against us for once. Who’da guessed?”
“If we do this right, we can still catch them off guard,” Derek responds patiently, continuing to ignore Stiles, “we just need to make sure we time our approach right. Come in slow and then strike fast before they can coordinate their own strategy.”
“Ah, well timed confusion and mayhem. That does make all the difference”
“That might work, but it doesn’t change the fact that we are seriously outnumbered.” Jackson notes, “There were at least a dozen of them and one of them was an Alpha. And we like to talk big, sure, but the fact is Scott, Lydia, and I are young werewolves. We’re inexperienced.”
“Did Jackson just admit to his inferiority? The situation is worse than I thought.”
“If we need numbers, we should get my family to help!” Allison speaks up, her voice slightly higher pitched than normal. “These werewolves kidnapped a human. My family knows that Stiles is missing, and they’re definitely suspicious, but I haven’t confirmed that it was werewolves yet.”
“And you’re not going to.” Derek growls.
“Does she even need to? Really? I mean, when is it not werewolves in this town.”
“Why not? They’re trained to handle werewolves, even in large packs. They would probably be more equipped to handle this than us!”
“A valid point.”
“I don’t want a bunch of hunters getting trigger-happy halfway through the mission and shooting up the wrong wolves.” Derek grinds out.
“Also a very real possibility.”
“They wouldn’t do that, it would go against the code.”
“It does state quite clearly-“
“Right, because no hunter has ever broken that before.”
“Careful, Derek, your damage is showing.”
“Not all hunters are like Kate!” Allison’s voice is rising, edging into hysterical, “Stiles in in danger, he’s already been gone a week! We should be using all of our resources to get him back!”
Derek’s eyes narrow in confusion. He had been expecting this type of reaction from Scott, not Allison. “We will get him back, but I want to think of all of our options first.”
“Well maybe we don’t have time for that!” She is still yelling, despite the fact that the Alpha werewolf had not raised his voice at all.
“Everybody calm down,” Lydia broke in, “we can’t panic yet. We need to stay rational.”
“Aw, I always knew she cared.”
“Stiles is too annoying to die this fast.”
“It’s a deep care. Really.”
“But we still don’t know how we’re going to find them.” Jackson pointed out.
“That is kind of important.”
“Or what we’re supposed to do once we get there.” Scott added.
Allison was still looking on edge. “Just let me call the hunters, they’ll help!”
Derek barked in frustration, “Why do you even care so much? I thought you only cared about Scott?” He hadn’t meant to be so mean, but lack of sleep and stress had shortened his fuse.
“Hey!” Scott cried indignantly.
“He has a point.” Stiles shrugged.
“He has a point.” Jackson scoffed.
“Oh, it is a frightful day when Jackson and I agree on something. Perhaps this is the beginning of a beautiful bond? We should go bowling some time.”
Allison glared dangerously. “He’s my friend too and I care about him. He’s important to me.”
“People do need a support system, dude. One human all alone is just kind of lost. For the record, you’d have a similar issue if we had only one girl. It’s all about balance, Derek! Find your zen!”
The entire room goes silent, and Derek is painfully reminded that no one else is being subjected to Stiles-but-not-Stiles’ mindless chatter except him. He blinks a few times as his pack looks at him expectantly, confused and nervous looks on their faces, while Allison looks a little hurt. Derek growls in frustration. “I’ll be right back.” Turning, he stalks out of the room, leaving no room for argument.
As soon as he is outside he turns to glare at Stiles, whispering furiously under his breath, being careful to keep his voice soft enough that the others wont hear.
“You need to leave. Right now.”
Stiles rolls his eyes. “In what universe does telling your hallucinations to leave actually work?”
“So you are a hallucination!”
“Let me rephrase: In what universe does telling me to leave actually work?”
“…Fair point.” Derek runs his fingers through his hair agitatedly. “Maybe I should just tell them.” Stiles raises an eyebrow and Derek clarifies, “About you, I mean.”
“Um, and you actually think they’ll believe you’re not crazy?”
“They’re a group of teenage werewolves, I’m pretty sure believing that I’m seeing your ghost is not that far of a stretch.”
“If you tell them I’m a ghost they’ll just freak out and think I’m dead!”
“If you are a ghost, you are dead!”
The words hang between them and Derek take several deep breaths, trying to calm himself, trying to forget the words he has been thinking since Stiles first showed up.
He exhales slowly, letting the air hiss through his lips. “Yeah?”
“I don’t want to be dead.”
For a second, Derek is afraid he might actually cry. But he steels himself, just like he always does, and forces the emotions back. “You’re not. You’re out there, alive. I’m just insane. In all honesty I’m surprised it took this long.” He shrugs. “All things considered it was probably just a matter of time.”
Stiles laughs. “I always thought you could benefit from some form of therapy.” Derek scowls, but Stiles just smiles. “You should get back to the others, they’re probably starting to get worried.”
“Yeah…. Yeah, you’re right.” Derek turns to walk back into the living room when a voice calls behind him.
“I’m not going to die. You’re not getting rid of me that easily.”
Derek smiles. “I’d never be that lucky.” And with that, he returns to his remaining pack members, leaving the unnaturally silent figure behind him.
The front door to the Hale mansion slams open. For a moment, Derek stands in the doorway, eyes darting through the space, searching for something. Finally, he stalks into the kitchen and, throwing open a cabinet, grabs the first glass his hand finds and hurls it against the wall across the room. He stands there panting until a soft whistle breaks his thoughts.
“You know, we really need to work on your communication skills.”
Derek snarls, but Stiles only raises an eyebrow. “Use your words.”
He tries to hold it in, to listen to the endless litany of there’s nothing there, there’s nothing there, there’s nothing there that has been playing on repeat in his mind ever since he first saw Stiles. But eventually, it all comes pouring out.
“It’s been two weeks!” Derek yells, pacing the floor, “Two weeks, and we still can’t pin them down. Their scent is freaking everywhere and they’re constantly moving. And the Argents keep glaring at me like they’re looking for an excuse to shoot me, and the sheriff looks two steps away from a breakdown and the pack keeps looking to me for answers that I just don’t have!” He kicks one of the kitchen chairs, sending it flying across the room and shattering into splinters. Despite his best efforts, his eyes maybe get a bit glassy, and he maybe lets out a broken whisper as he stares at Stiles. “Where are you?”
They look at each other for a few moments, until Stiles looks away. “I’m sorry.”
Derek sighs. He wonders if maybe this Stiles is enough. He wonders if he is losing his mind.
“Yesterday upon the stair!” Stiles cries out dramatically, smirking up at Derek as the werewolf makes his way down the stairs, “I saw a man who wasn’t there. He wasn’t there again today…”
“I wish, I wish he’d go away.” Derek’s lips twitch towards a smile before he decides that no, it’s really not funny at all. It’s actually kind of horrifying if he thinks about it. So he doesn’t.
Stiles, however, breaks out into a grin, “So the big sour wolf does have a kid side.”
“Just because I’m familiar with the rhyme doesn’t mean I’m childish.”
“Okay, one: I never said you were ‘childish’, I said you have a ‘kid side’, pay attention, Derek! And two: It means that you were childish at some point, which is really pretty mind boggling all on its own.” Derek growls at him, but Stiles just shrugs, “I kind of assumed you were born scowling and wearing black.”
Despite himself, Derek lets out a barking laugh. In the past few weeks, he has allowed himself to be a bit looser around Stiles, to let down some walls. It helps that he can tell himself that Stiles isn’t actually there.
Stiles smiles again, and begins skipping beside Derek as he heads towards the kitchen, “There was a crooked man, who walked a crooked mile…”
“And found a crooked sixpence…”
“against a crooked stile” They share a grin, and Stiles bows low as he allows Derek pass through the doorway first.
Derek chuckles as he continues, rummaging through his nearly empty pantry, “He bought a crooked cat…”
“which caught a crooked mouse…”
“and they all lived together…”
“in a crooked little house!” Stiles spins in place, gesturing grandly to the whole of the Hale house. Derek simply shakes his head and pulls out a box of cereal, resigning himself to eating it dry. They share a few minutes of companionable silence before Derek notices Stiles humming softly to himself.
“Hm?” Stiles looks at him, startled, “Oh, I just…” He has a slight look of confusion on his face, “I have something stuck in my head.” Derek does not respond to that. Stiles hums a bit more, before smiling and beginning to rock forward onto his toes to the beat of the song, “Miss Mary Mack, Mack, Mack, all dressed in black, black, black!” Derek remembers this one, it had been one of his younger cousin’s favorite to sing while jump-roping. “She has a knife, knife, knife, stuck in her back, back, back!”
The alpha’s head snaps up. “Those aren’t the lyrics.”
Stiles continues, singing and bouncing, as if he hadn’t heard him. Maybe he hadn’t. “The blood was red, red, red, her skin was white, white, white, but it got worse, worse, worse, with every night, night, night.”
“She could not run, run, run, she could not cry, cry, cry, and that is why, why, why, soon she will-“
The younger boy blinks, as if coming out of a daze. He looks at Derek, notices his heavy breathing and wide eyes, and furrows his brow. “Was that not right?”
“What? No, Stiles… What the Hell was that?”
All he receives is a shrug, “I don’t know. It was just stuck in my head.”
Derek doesn’t know what to say to that. He finds he rarely does. All he can do is file the moment away with all the others, another piece of a puzzle that hasn’t gotten any clearer.
Meanwhile, Stiles has flopped down onto a chair and draped himself across the dining table. He rests his chin on his left forearm while the fingers of his right hand dance across the table. “Vintery, mintery, cuttery, corn…”
It takes three weeks. Three weeks before Lydia stumbles upon the trail, before Derek assembles the team, before the pack and the argents find themselves rushing into an abandoned, unstable looking warehouse in downtown Beacon Hills, guns blazing and teeth bared.
The argents are in the front, firing bullets and arrows with not-nearly-deadly-enough accuracy, leaving several werewolves injured and several more pissed off. Derek leads his pack behind them, all in their fullest wolf form. The younger members hold back, aiming for arms and legs and incapacitate-but-not-kill shots. Derek is not so kind. He rips and shreds at anything his red eyes fall upon. It takes every ounce of his will power to stay focused and not be distracted by the human figure in the corner of his vision shouting, “Be careful, Derek!” and “Nice one, take ‘em down!”
Derek speeds through the rooms, letting the others take care of the main group of enemy werewolves. The alpha follows the scent of blood and boy through the rooms. It takes him mere moments to find them.
He looks so different that Derek feels his breath catch in his chest. Stiles is lying against the wall in nothing but his boxers with his hands tied behind his back and his body a mass of wounds that Derek doesn’t have the time to evaluate. All he knows is that Stiles is unconscious, and a very crazed looking alpha is rushing right at him.
The two alphas are relatively evenly matched and they clash in a mass of fur and teeth and glowing, blood-red eyes. Any other day, the female may have won, may have gotten lucky and gained the upper hand. But Derek is driven by a mad rage, a need for vengeance, a need to protect the one who was hurt, and an all-encompassing need to kill the one responsible.
Derek pins her down, long claws hook on her lower jaw and rips.
For a moment, all he can do is stand there and breath, his chest heaving with adrenalin and shock that just like that, it’s over. But of course, it’s not.
Because at that moment, just as he turns to look back at the human he came to save, the wall beside him explodes, sending him flying backwards away from Stiles. He lands heavily, knocking the breath from his lungs. And just as he is preparing to inhale, to try to stand up again, the roof collapses.
When Derek finally wakes up, the first thing he notices is that the air is still full of dust, so he assumes he hasn’t been out for long. The second thing he notices is that he has been buried from the chest down in concrete and drywall. He can feel the weight pressing down on his ribs, and he can already feel that some have been broken, along with at least one of his legs. He struggles to move, to escape the pressure so that he can heal, but he is at the wrong angle and in too much pain and his chest gets a little bit tighter when he realizes that he is trapped and probably dying, actually dying.
“Derek? Derek come on, don’t fall asleep on me, the night’s still young!”
He blinks, and his vision clears, though he doesn’t remember it being blurry. For a moment, he feels a rush of relief, because Stiles is standing above him, awake and alive and alright, but then he realizes that he is still wearing the red hoodie and has no injuries and Derek thinks he might cry.
“…You?” His voice is raspy from too-shallow breaths.
“Yup, me. And there is no way I am outliving you because that would be just, just all sorts of wrong so you just keep talking and breathing and living, okay?”
“I’m…Alpha… don’t…tell me… what to do…” Talking hurts, but Stiles asked him to so he supposes he can for a little bit longer.
Stiles rolls his eyes, “You don’t scare me anymore, sourwolf. I recognize your threats as empty.”
“I can still… rip… your throat out…”
“Well sure you can, but I’m saying you wont.”
Derek coughs and a spray of blood hits the light. “Oh God…” He rasps, “I’m dying… I’m dying and I’m spending my last conscious moments arguing with a hallucination.” He blinks sluggishly up at Stiles. “What does that say about me?”
Stiles smiles sadly. “I think you should be more worried about what it says that you’re spending your last conscious moments hallucinating me.” Looking away, Stiles clenches and unclenches his hands in his lap, like he wants so badly to reach out but can’t bear to try. “At first I thought that maybe you liked me, but now I think you’re just a masochist.”
Everything is blurring at the edges, and Derek’s body feels so light, even trapped under the incredible weight pinning him down. It takes all of his energy to release the soft scoff from his throat.
“’m not… a masochist…”
His eyelids feel heavy. Maybe it would be okay to close his eyes, just for a second…
“Glad to hear that, boss.”
Derek opens his eyes at the sound of a new voice. Jackson is standing above him, eyes wide and frantic. He can hear Lydia and Scott shoving the rubble aside as fast as they can. Derek’s eyes wander around the room until Jackson gently slaps his face, bringing his attention back to the Beta above him.
“Hey, stay with me, Derek, alright? We’ll have you outta here in no time.”
Derek nods, already feeling the weight on his body easing with every piece of cement tossed aside by his pack. He vaguely notes that Jackson is still talking.
“…turns out there was a gas tank or something, I’m not even sure, all I know is one of the Argents shot wide and hit a tank that then proceeded to blow up. A few people were injured, a few dead but none of our own.”
The alpha nods again, before turning his head to the side and frowning. Sluggishly, his eyes search every corner of the room, but no matter where he looks, something is missing.
“Stiles?” It is whispered at first, raspy and weak, but soon it is filled with and edge of hysteria, panic. “Stiles!” At that moment, Scott and Lydia finally manage to free their alpha. Derek moves to sit up, but Jackson holds him down. “Stiles!”
“Derek, don’t move yet! You need a second to heal! Stiles is with Allison, he’s alive, I swear!”
For a moment, Derek blinks in confusion. It has been so long that even in the midst of a rescue attempt, a part of him forgot that the Stiles he had been with for the past several weeks, talking to and weirdly bonding with, was not the real Stiles. There is a sudden crackling sound and he groans as his legs and ribs pop back into place, straightening and realigning themselves as they should. Within a minute Derek is as good as new, standing and wiping the blood from his chin as if he hadn’t been dying a minute ago. His eyes harden with resolve.
They stay at the hospital for eighteen hours before Derek sends the pack home. Stiles still hasn’t woken up. They are weary, and scared, but Derek sends them away, tells them to go and rest. He’s almost positive he will find them later huddled together in the Hale house, but figures that this way they might at least get some sleep.
Derek studies the man across from him. Sheriff Stilinski hasn’t left his son’s side since he arrived. Scott had called him after making sure his best friend was safe in the hands of doctors. The teen had barely got the words out (“Mr. Stilinski, we’re at the hospital. We found him-“) before the man hung up on him. Eight minutes later he was bursting into the waiting room, demanding to see his son and threatening anyone who tried to stop him. Derek could still smell the salt of his tears.
Stile is hooked up to too many machines for Derek to be comfortable. Beeps and clicks and whirling all grate at the werewolf’s ears. He cannot grasp the sickly paleness of the teenager’s skin, and he grips the arm of his chair almost to the point of breaking every time he catches the lingering scent of the other alpha staining his skin, subtle under the overwhelming aroma of antiseptic, but still there. Still taunting him.
The doctors say that he will be fine. Stiles is an ugly mass of wounds, varying in severity. He seemed to be suffering from some symptoms of mild hypothermia, which the doctors guess used to be worse before his captors moved him someplace apparently warmer. There are cuts and scratches and bruises and burns littering his entire body and he was malnourished. They found what looks like a stab wound in his upper back near his left shoulder blade that needs to be cleaned because of infection. There are assumptions and implications that make Derek sick and wish he could spill more of the alpha’s blood. Makes him wish he could go back in time and wrap Stiles in his arms and keep him there so nothing could ever hurt him.
But despite all of this, the doctors still assured them that Stiles would be okay, that nothing was life threatening or permanent. They found no reason for Stiles to still be asleep. The only possibility was a minor head wound on his right temple behind his ear, but it wasn’t even concussion level. They were stumped, and said that all they could do was wait and see. Every hour Derek’s heart clenches more.
“Please wake up…”
Derek’s gaze snaps to Mr. Stilinski. His eyes are misty and his hands are shakily clasped around his son’s. “Please, kid, you gotta open your eyes. I can’t lose you, I can’t…. You’re all I have left…”
Dropping his eyes to the floor, Derek stands as quietly as he can. He feels like he is intruding. He would give the father and son some time alone. Stepping out of the room, the door clicks softly behind him. He closes his eyes and sighs.
“I thought you were gone.”
He opens his eyes, but the figure is still there, leaning against the wall across from him, shrugging nonchalantly. “Apparently not. Surprised you’re still here though. Shouldn’t you be looking after your pack?”
Anxious fingers run through dark hair as Derek moves jerkily. He leans against the wall beside Stiles before allowing his body to slide to the ground, rubbing his forehead tiredly. “Why are you still here?”
Stiles glances to the side, focusing his eyes away from Derek. “I don’t know.”
“Bullshit.” Derek glares up at Stiles, whose gaze has drifted closer to the werewolf, but still not meeting his. “You’re not a ghost, cause I can hear your heart beating in that room. And yeah, maybe I’m insane, but why am I still seeing you when the real you is lying ten feet away?” His voice lowers to a growl, trying to avoid attracting too much attention in a hospital. “Why didn’t I see you while I was in there?”
A dry laugh escapes from Stiles. “Hey, trust me, if you want a grade-A way to question your existence just stare down at yourself in a hospital bed.”
“Damn it, Stiles!” Derek jumps to his feet and thanks God for small miracles that the hallway is currently empty. “Stop deflecting! Stop talking in circles and just tell me the truth!”
“I don’t know!” Stiles yells back, his voice cracking ever so slightly. “Alright? That’s the truth. I don’t know if I’m real or not, if I’m…” He laughs humorlessly, “if I’m Stiles or just your fucked up subconscious. Whatever answers you want from me I can’t give you.” He pauses a beat. “All I know is that the kid in there,” he points angrily at the door leading to Stile’s room, “was tortured. For awhile. And if it were me…” his voice cracks even more, his face crumples just a bit, “if it were me trapped with some psychotic werewolf who thought that screaming was just another form of music and blood just another kind of art, I’d leave. I’d use all of my vast mental power to go somewhere else, to run away in my mind and keep running and running and running until I…” Stiles finally meets Derek’s eyes just as the first tears fall. “…until I felt safe.”
For a moment, Derek feels as though all of his senses have shut down, and all he can hear is a single, steady heart beat sounding in the next room. Derek swallows thickly before straightening his spine and nodding.
And when he turns and opens the door to the hospital room, Stiles does not follow him.
The sheriff is hunched over, his head resting on the bed next to Stiles’ legs and his hand still gently holding his son’s. Deep, even breaths assure Derek that he is sleeping. After a moment of consideration, Derek hesitantly grasps the unconscious teen’s other hand before sitting down beside him.
“Stiles…” He whispers, almost afraid of breaking the silence but needing to say this. “Stiles, it’s alright. You’re safe now. You… you can come back. We’re waiting for you.” Minutes pass, and nothing happens and Derek kicks himself for expecting differently. He gives the hand in his a squeeze, and slowly lowers his head until his forehead is resting on the mattress by Stiles’ neck. He inhales deeply, ignoring anything that doesn’t belong and just taking in the scent he had missed so much.
“I’ve got you. You’re safe.”
Derek blinked his eyes rapidly, not remembering falling asleep. He could hear Mr. Stilinski’s heart beat, telling him that the man is still asleep. But when he lifts his head off of the bed, a pair of bright amber eyes are staring back at him. He feels his breath catch in his throat. Seconds pass and they stare at each other. Derek is still holding Stiles’ hand.
Finally, Derek lets out a laugh that sounds a bit like a sob.
“Hey.” He squeezes Stiles’ hand. “Long time no see.”