Of course it was raining, the night his jeep and his bike got impounded by the Beacon Hills Police Force as 'evidence', of course, it would have to be raining. And not just any sort of rain either, oh no, this was a washout if he'd ever seen one. Stiles zipped up his hoodie and hunched his shoulders against the sudden spill of rainwater down through the gutters along the street. His sneakers splashed through a puddle – deeper than it looked in the streetlamp glare - and he cursed at the ice cold water seeping up through his socks.
The water shimmered against the blacktop like a pool of spreading blood and he wasn't thinking about the way the hydraulic line had burst, wasn't thinking about the way the viscous fluid mingled with the mechanic's blood on the oil-slick garage floor. Wasn't thinking about lying there, helpless, watching a sort of awestruck terror bloom on another man's frozen face. Watching his arm flop uselessly at his side, even as the press of the unchecked machinery -
“Of all the freakin' nights,” Stiles broke through his spiraling thoughts, muttering a lengthy string of slurs against the storm's entire matriarchal lineage. “Can't a guy catch a break, here?”
A streetlamp flickered and buzzed overhead before going out entirely, leaving a yawning gap between the barber and the corner deli, narrow and dark. Stiles paused and calculated the risk, taking a few mushy steps in place. What were the odds the creature had stuck around, waiting for a second chance? One in ten? One in fifty? He had no idea how a murderous lizard-creature might strategise, having never met one previously, and without that valuable piece of information all his projections were useless. All right, he thought. Okay. Breathe. Count back from ten. You can do this.
Nine. Just the wind in the trees. His eyelids fluttered open and he forced them closed with effort.
Eight – oh, holy mary mother of fuck, was that a footstep? A half-dry leaf scuttled out from between the rows of bricks and danced its way into a puddle. Right. Just a leaf. Nothing with claws. Stiles set his shoulders. Try again.
Ten. Stiles breathed in, slow and deep. His heart would never actually reach escape velocity, he was fairly certain scientific experimentation had proven that. Just keep going.
Nine. He could do this. Stiles leaned against the building for a moment, ducking out of the rain beneath a soggy awning to cinch the laces on his shoes. Didn't want to trip. Had to make sure they were tight.
Eight. He took a breath and pushed away from the wall, wet hands tucked away in the hoodie's center pocket, fists clenched. The picture of nonchalance. Just an ordinary kid out for an ordinary walk...in the dark...in the...pouring rain. Right.
Seven. The streetlamp behind him burst back to life and he jumped, leaping across the alley like a frightened mouse to cower on the other side. He blinked up at the sudden brightness, wheezing out something that might have sounded like laughter, if you hadn't the slightest idea how laughter was supposed to sound.
Stiles pressed back against the brick frame of the diner's windows, watching the neon sign switch from a vibrant “We're Open!” to a lifeless afterimage of itself. “You don't have to go home,” Stiles muttered, “But you can't stay -”
An arm reached out from the alley and grabbed Stiles by his shoulder, reducing the last of his sentence to a high-pitched yelp. Sharp claws raked across the fabric as he struggled, choking on rain and his own abject terror. His throat closed up and a series of small, impotent squeaks issued out as he shut his eyes. Easier to think, if he didn't have to look at, at -
Don't think about it.
Wait for it – there . Stiles knew a bit more about lizard anatomy than lizard thinking, and placed his bets. He grabbed at the arm attached to the hand, digging his fingers into the soft hollow where the lunate contacted the radius, twisting upward with a sharp jerk. The dull snap of bone was nearly lost in the pounding rhythm of rain on the concrete below. The growl that followed it was not.
A second arm followed the first, grabbing Stiles by the neck and dragging him deep into the alley. Pinned against the bricks, feet dangling just far enough off the ground to be useless, he fought to breathe. “Stiles,” a voice whispered, angry, rushed, and it wasn't much like a lizard man should sound at all. Stiles' eyes cracked open in surprise and widened, pupils blown black with fear.
“Derek?” he managed to squeeze out, losing the middle consonant to the pressure crushing his larynx. At this, the tension eased, and Derek lowered him down until his sneakers met the asphalt. His hand stayed snug against Stiles' neck, thumb pressed lightly against the pulse point there.
“Nice move,” Derek commented, snapping his wrist back into joint as if throwing a punch.
“Th-thanks?” Stiles whispered, drawing his head back as far away from Derek's as he could manage. His head grazed the solid wall of bricks behind him and he winced.
“What did you see in there?” Derek demanded, eyes searching Stiles' face for answers.
“What?” Stiles questioned, blinking back the woozy darkness that threatened to surround and overtake him. His heart stuttered at a thousand beats per minute and dangled, useless, somewhere in between. “Where?” he asked waiting for that after beat like the drop of a second shoe.
Derek cuffed him lightly upside the head, drawing him back to consciousness, and there it was, off to the races again. “At the auto body shop,” the Alpha spelled out, one word at a time.
“O-oh,” Stiles answered. “You mean the ah- the, yeah, well, you, see the thing about that is, that I, uh -” Derek growled. Stiles squeezed his eyes shut. “Please,” he whispered. “Don't ask me to remember that. Not right now.”
“You're shaking,” Derek noted, the hint of a question behind his tone.
“You're just now picking up on that? Wow, fantastic detective skills, Officer Hale.”
“You're not afraid of me,” Derek stated, tilting his head.
“The hell I'm not – I mean, ok, look, of course I'm afraid of you, you've got me pinned to a wall in a dark alley in the middle of the friggin' night and oh yeah, you're also a WEREWOLF.”
“No,” Derek contradicted him. “You haven't been afraid of me since that night at the school. Annoyed, maybe, pissed off, generally, but not exactly afraid. So what's got you so - “
Stiles wheezed, his chest contracting painfully. He clutched at the strings of his hoodie, trying to untangle them and unzip the jacket. “I just – I can't-” his throat closed off completely and his mouth gaped, eyes gone red with pressure.
“Stiles.” Derek commanded, hands on his shoulders. “Stop.” Stiles shook his head, choking on what little air he had left in his lungs. “Look at me.” Somehow, Stiles managed to raise his head just enough to do as Derek asked and found himself caught and held. It wasn't the usual tail-light glare that he had come to expect from the Alpha Wolf, no, this was something older, more familiar.
In a dark alley just off of Main Street, Derek Hale's eyes were glowing blue. The painful pounding in Stiles' chest slackened off, just enough; the stranglehold on his throat let go. It was still raining, but he wasn't underwater anymore.
“Come with me,” Derek said, quietly, an invitation instead of an order. Stiles filled his lungs with a clear, deep breath and nodded, ok. Derek's hand at the small of his back guided him to the car parked just the other side of the alley, all but invisible in the night. He opened the door for Stiles, settled him in without a sound. He tried to toss Stiles' pack in the backseat, but gave up at clenched fingers holding onto the mesh for dear life. “Do you – need to take something?” he guessed, feeling strangely out of his league. “Or are you all right?”
Stiles stared blankly ahead, fumbling through his pack for a small prescription bottle. After three unsuccessful attempts, he managed to remove the lid and tumble two round, yellow pills into his palm. He dry swallowed them before Derek could offer a half-finished bottle of water from the console. “Yeah,” Derek muttered. “Ok. That's covered.”
They drove in silence for three miles before Stiles spoke, his breathing breaking into slower, more even planes as Derek smoothly piloted the car around the hills. “You need to know what I saw in there. So you can go after it,” he offered, voice carefully neutral. “Right?”
“That's about it,” Derek agreed, keeping his eyes on the road.
“Ok,” Stiles agreed shakily. “Ok, but maybe not in a car that's, you know, moving so – fast.” Derek glanced at Stiles' hands where they clutched the passenger seat and the handle above and immediately let up on the gas.
“I'm sorry, I didn't mean to -”
“It's ok. Just,” Stiles took in great gasps of air between words. “Somewhere quiet. Would be great.”
Derek steered the car towards the old house more out of habit than any better idea, pulling up into a drive neatly hidden by the small forest of trees that always seemed to crop up after a fire. Stiles stared out the window at the admixture of rotting planks and broken windows, clearly second-guessing Derek's choice.
“Is there somewhere else you'd rather talk?” Derek asked, trying to keep his severely worn patience out of his voice. “I'm pretty sure every diner in town is closed at this hour, and with all the dishes rattling and banging, I just thought -”
“No,” Stiles answered with a slump of defeat, and leaned his way out of the car door. He started toward the tumble-down structure, sneakers kicking up piles of dead leaves. A light drizzle still fell, shining in his hair, and that was it. Derek's cool was finally blown.
“Hey, look,” he called out, coming around the side of the car. “C'mere.” He took off his jacket and wrapped it around Stiles' shoulders, patting it down until it fit as well as it was going to. He took Stiles' bag from out his hands and shrugged it over one shoulder. “We can stay out here, but it's drier in there and -oof!”
Stiles leaned forward abruptly, pushing Derek back against the car with more force than he would have expected. A pair of scrawny arms wrapped around him, would have squeezed the breath right out of an ordinary man. “Thank you,” Stiles whispered against his neck, and Derek shivered at the rush of warm air. His arms reached out, pulled the kid in tighter and they breathed together, against the wind. Something in Derek knew better, knew that this was wrong on deeper levels than he wanted to think about, but it was terrifyingly right, too. One of his hands ruffled the fuzz atop Stiles' head to break the moment and won him a laugh, or at least a chuckle. It was better than nothing, after this night, and he would have to take what he could get.
“Inside?” he suggested, one hand wrapped tight about Stiles' shoulders.
“Inside,” Stiles nodded. “You've got a fireplace in there, right? Like with the kindling and the firewood and the -”
“Yes, Stiles, I'll make you a fire.”
“Ok. That's good 'cause I'm – I'm kinda soaked and really, seriously cold.”
Derek rattled down the crumbling staircase with a pile of old clothes, shoving them in Stiles' hands before kneeling in front of the hearth. “I doubt they'll fit, but at least they're dry,” he offered, keeping his back turned as Stiles ducked into the other room and peeled off his layers of wet clothing. He wandered back into the main room, borrowed sweatpants cinched awkwardly halfway up his stomach to keep them from falling off. He rolled up the sleeves of the soft, knitted shirt, feeling like a little kid playing dress up.
Derek took the bundle of wet clothing from his hands and began laying them out over various pieces of furniture, squeezing torrents of water from Stiles' trusty green flannel onto the dry, wooden floorboards. Stiles heard the steady drip as the water seeped down through the cracks in the floor and focused on the sound, rhythmic and even. The fire caught in the brazier and a smooth, spreading warmth flooded the room. Something in Stiles began to gently unwind, like the gears of a worn out clock.
“Where do you even sleep?” Stiles asked, immediately regretting the question as it set his cheeks aflame. Derek gestured toward the battered couch. “The car's better sometimes,” he answered finally, watching the flames dance in the brazier. “Oh, come on, how much do you sleep, anyway?” Derek redirected, kicking a piece of charred wood across the floor.
“Touche,” Stiles answered, trying to remember the last time he'd actually crashed for the night in his bed. His desk was just as comfortable. He could tell himself that, anyway. “But you had questions,” he sighed, settling in next to the hearth as the fire roared to life.
Derek perched on an arm of the couch as Stiles recounted the night's events, from bitching at the mechanic about the cost of his repairs to – to watching that thing slip down from the rafters and – he stopped, taking a few deep breaths. Derek never interrupted, just calmly listened, his eyes occasionally flickering a dim, calming blue. Stiles wanted to ask about that, he really did, but once he got started talking about the attack, about lying there helpless on the floor and the machinery crashing down and all that blood, so much blood, spreading towards him in a thick, gooey pool of awful red stain, he just couldn't seem to find the words to change the subject. He was grateful that Derek's eyes didn't remind him of it, and especially glad that they were nothing like the golden-green slits, lit with curious and terrible recognition. He shuddered, knowing that he would see nothing else in his sleep for weeks.
“And that's when my dad showed up, with the rest of the badge brigade,” Stiles finished lamely, looking down at his hands. “All flashing lights and interrogations and - and oh my god, I just asked you to build a fire in this house, in your house!” He stood up, clearly horrified, backing away from the warmly burning hearth. “H-holy fff-oosball, what was I thinking?”
“Stiles,” Derek was on his feet, reaching out towards the kid, still pacing in front of the mantle, head cradled in his hands. “It's ok. Really. The chimney's one of the only things that still works around here.”
“But this place – and I just – how could I even do that, oh my god.” The fear returned to Stiles' face, eyes wide and full of panicked remorse.
“I asked you here,” Derek said, solid and direct. “I asked you to talk to me about something horrible that no one should ever have to have seen, much less the way you saw it. Anything you need right now is all right.”
Stiles stood in place and watched him carefully across the distance, his borrowed henley sliding down around one bony shoulder. Watching him, waiting for something, and Derek couldn't for the life of him puzzle it out until it clicked.
“You're worried about me,” he said, sitting down in a heap next to the couch. “You.”
“Well, yeah,” Stiles admitted uncomfortably, shuffling over to sit beside Derek on the floor. He nudged his shoulder, settling his back against the overstuffed cushions. “Kinda weird, huh? I guess it's just what I do.”
Derek laughed, a low, rumbling sound that started somewhere in his chest and couldn't seem to find a way out. “You should do that more often,” Stiles remarked.
Derek looked up, confused. “Laugh,” Stiles clarified. “I don't know if I've ever actually heard you laugh before, much less seen you smile, and I've tried -”
“You've tried,” Derek interrupted.
“I always try,” Stiles mumbled, his chin nearly touching his chest.
“I know,” Derek replied, trying to think of something better to say, only to settle for reaching behind him for a moth-eaten blanket and wrapping it around their knees. “Sometimes it gets kind of chilly in here,” he added, weakly, by way of explanation.
“I don't mind,” Stiles yawned. Derek nudged his shoulder back.
“You're not getting sleepy on me, are you?” he asked, a teasing smile on his lips.
“What, after all that?” Stiles shivered. “Nah, man, I think I'm good. For another few -” he paused to yawn. “Hours, at least. I mean, if you've got any more questions.”
“No,” Derek said softly. “That's enough.”
Stiles slid down next to him, burrowing into the cushions where they spilled onto the floor. If his head rested against Derek's shoulder, well, that was probably all right. Harmless, Derek thought. Just a little creature comfort in the dark. He wrapped his arm around Stiles' shoulder as he felt his breathing settle into a deep, peaceful rhythm, listening for his heartbeat as the embers glowed into the pre-dawn light.
“It hasn't,” Stiles mumbled softly, his voice hoarse and rusty with sleep. “It hasn't been that bad since my mom -” He trailed off, unable to finish the sentence. “I don't know what you did, but. Thank you.”
Derek's hand moved down Stiles' arm from his shoulder, fingertips lightly brushing his skin. He couldn't push away the needling sense of guilt for making Stiles relive his life-threatening experience, but the information had been invaluable. He just wished it didn't make him feel like such a bully.
“Honestly,” Derek confessed. “I'm surprised it worked.” He breathed in the scent of Stiles, relaxed now, half-asleep, mingling with his own. He considered letting him keep the shirt, his wolf liking the idea of Stiles wearing something of his, smelling like him, even when he was out of reach.
He wasn't Stiles' Alpha, not yet at least, but maybe he was something else. The wolf liked the idea, liked it far more than Derek was comfortable with, but he pushed the troublesome thoughts away. For now, this was enough. He closed his eyes, his heartbeat falling into sync with Stiles' own as the fire burned slowly away.
It would be all right. No matter what this was, it was what Stiles needed, and like it or not, it was what he needed, too. Derek never would have expected it, but the kid was starting to feel like pack. It should have worried him, should have given him pause, but right now, Stiles warm and calm against his side, he and his wolf were at peace.