- 1 -
The realization that he cares for Stiles comes swiftly and without warning, following sharply behind the realization that Stiles is very likely about to die.
Terror settles in him like a tangible thing, writhing within his stomach and curling up his spine slowly, slowly. For a terrible moment, he can’t breathe, can’t force himself to speak, unable to process the fact that he’s sent Stiles right into a trap, that the monster lurking inside the hospital is apt to rend him limb from limb the second it lays eyes on him, that it will gut him and devour his heart, and Derek will be the one to blame.
He finds his voice again, and when he does, words tumble out of him frantically as he tears off his seatbelt. “Stiles, get out of there right now,” he shouts into the phone, “It’s him, he’s the alpha, get out—”
The line abruptly goes dead, and Derek chokes back the rest of it. He tosses the phone aside, careless of where it lands as he wrenches the door of the jeep open; the only thing preventing him from tearing it off entirely is that it belongs to Stiles, and really, that thought is more of a clue than anything else.
He’s across the parking lot in seconds, hurling himself through the glass doors of the hospital and barreling down the halls without hesitation. There’s no blood in the otherwise sterile air, but amidst the chemicals and omnipresent scent of the slowly dying, he can smell fear, burnt flesh, pack, family, Stiles —
He whirls around the corner to see Stiles trapped between the nurse and Peter, and at the sight of his uncle, something splinters inside of him, and for a second, he stumbles, anguish catching him like a snare and tearing into him with steel teeth. Lingering hope that he hadn’t been aware of collapses beneath him, leaving only the hollow resignation to the fact that he’s truly alone now. His last chance at rebuilding what he once had is standing before him with dark eyes, advancing towards Stiles with slow, unmistakable intent.
Anger rushes in to fill the wounds of betrayal, and he darts forward, taking out the nurse with his elbow before placing himself deliberately in the Alpha’s path. Stiles turns to him with an expression of utter relief, but he’s barely able to process the open trust in that look, the trust that Derek will protect him, as he feels Peter’s gaze falling upon him instead.
“That’s not nice,” his uncle drawls. “She’s my nurse.”
His voice, despite being laced with the unmistakable power of the Alpha, is still familiar to Derek, and it brings with it a flood of memories that only fuel the miasma of sorrow and bitter rage clouding his mind. “She’s a psychotic bitch helping you kill people,” he spits, hardly missing a beat as he addresses Stiles: “Get out of the way.”
“Oh, damn,” Stiles gasps, and he quickly ducks behind Derek.
Derek’s attention never wavers from his uncle as Peter begins stalking towards him. “You think I killed Laura on purpose?” he says, and Derek’s heart twists painfully at the sound of his sister’s name. “One of my own family?”
At that, Derek’s control snaps. A ferocious roar rends itself from his throat, teeth bared as he and Peter charge at each other, losing himself to the ever-present anger that lurks in the back of his mind and allowing it to take him over.
He hardly stands a chance against the Alpha, and it becomes evidently clear as they clash. Peter throws him against the wall as if he weighs nothing, pain lancing through him at the force of the impact. He crumples to the ground, inches from Stiles.
There’s a heart-stopping instant where he senses Stiles’ hesitation, the fleeting touch of fingers brushing against the edge of his jacket as if to help or comfort. Derek lets out a sharp growl of warning, and then the touch is gone, and Stiles is scrambling across the floor of the corridor to get as far from the two of them as he possibly can.
Peter drags him up by the throat, and as Derek coughs and snaps his teeth at the Alpha’s hand, some part of him finds comfort that Stiles is out of harm’s way, and somehow that makes the pain of his bones shattering more bearable.
- 2 -
The effect of the wolfsbane lingers in his system long after he pulls Scott from the smoke-filled room. Even an hour later, when he’s sitting in the passenger seat of Stiles’ jeep and only partially aware of what’s going on around him, he can feel the pervasive weakness leadening his limbs, wanting to lull him into unconsciousness. He’s managed to stay awake long enough for them to maneuver Scott into the back of the jeep and drive him home, but now that he’s been left alone while Stiles handles the task of actually getting Scott to the door of his house, the exhaustion and partial delirium has hit Derek like a physical weight.
He doesn’t bother opening his eyes when Stiles clambers back into the jeep, although he regrets it immediately when that prompts Stiles to reach over and shake him roughly. “Hey, man,” Stiles says, “You still with us?”
Derek lets out a low growl to serve as his answer, and Stiles jerks backwards. “Sorry, sorry, just making sure you don’t almost die in my car. Again. Are you trying to make this a regular thing? Because it really shouldn’t be.”
Instead of replying, Derek asks, “How’s Scott?”
Stiles switches on the ignition, the jeep shuddering to life around them. “Fine. I told his mom we were at a party and someone spiked his drink. It took some convincing but I think she believed me - and if she wants to think he actually just got totally wasted, it’s Scott’s problem, not ours.”
Derek gives a grunt of approval as Stiles begins driving, presumably heading across town to the abandoned subway lot that’s become something of the pack’s den. “I’ll check up on him later.”
“Uh, no, you won’t,” Stiles protests. “Leave that to me. You just got hit with, what, some bioterrorism-level wolfsbane, right? You need to take it easy, get your strength back.”
“Save it. We’ve got a killer lizard on the loose, and if you’re not in fighting shape, you’re not gonna be able to protect your pack.”
“Our pack,” Derek corrects automatically, and the silence that follows is abruptly tense, although he isn’t sure why.
After a minute or two, Stiles coughs awkwardly. “Wasn’t aware I was part of the club,” he says, voice rough with some indiscernible emotion.
Derek feels himself frowning, and he cracks an eye open to peer sideways at Stiles, who’s staring resolutely at the road in front of him. “Why wouldn’t you be?”
“Oh, you know,” Stiles waves a hand dismissively, “on account of being completely useless and all that jazz—”
“Stiles,” Derek interjects, and he’s pushing himself to sit up straight, driven by both confusion and a primal indignation at the thought of a pack member expressing such thoughts. It strikes him on a level he hadn’t been conscious of, an Alpha sensing a weakness in the bond of the pack - but the human side of him, the side that’s come to think of Stiles as an ally and something of a friend at some point down the line, also feels perplexed and strangely hurt by the confession.
“You’re anything but useless,” he continues. “Why would you even think that?”
Stiles shrugs offhandedly. “Easy, want the list? I’m just the human sidekick who tags along, I don’t have any awesome fighting skills to help out, and let’s face it, the only reason I’m even involved in any of this is because my best friend dropped his goddamn inhaler in the woods.”
“You don’t need to fight to be useful,” Derek says, but the snort that leaves Stiles is derisive. Derek growls again in response. “I mean it. You have no idea how much you help us, do you?”
Stiles is quiet, apprehensive, and Derek sees that he’s going to have to spell it out, word-for-word. He takes a deep breath, dimly acknowledging that most of this conversation would likely not be happening if he wasn’t somewhat delirious from the exposure to wolfsbane.
“Without your research, we’d be lost. You’re resourceful, and for the most part, you’ve become our main strategist,” he explains, taking the lack of interruption as a signal to keep going. “You were able to coordinate the rest of the pack when I wasn’t with them tonight, kept the plan on track, and what you did with the ash wasn’t half-bad.”
The jeep has slowed down significantly as Stiles pulls over, until it comes to a stop on the shoulder. Before Derek can question it, Stiles shifts the car into park and turns to him. There are no streetlights on this stretch of road, and even with his enhanced eyesight, Stiles’ expression is unreadable. When he speaks, though, his voice is amused, playful, strengthened with a tone of self-confidence Derek isn’t entirely accustomed to hearing.
“Not half-bad, huh?” Stiles says. “Is that Derek for ‘pretty freakin’ amazing’?”
“You’re not useless,” Derek reiterates, “and you’re pack now, whether you like it or not.”
“Oh, actually—,” Stiles starts, and he’s suddenly crossing the distance between them, fingers coming to rest against the side of Derek’s face in a way that makes the animal inside him shift and salivate.
“Actually, I like that a lot.”
- 3 -
He isn’t sure what brings him to the Stilinski house so late in the night, but as he draws himself up to Stiles’ window and slides it open with practiced ease, he immediately senses that something is wrong.
The bedroom is empty, although he picks up Stiles’ scent close nearby. It’s tinged with an emotion that Derek can’t place, but he can discern the smell of sweat and tears. He hovers at the sill for a second or two, wondering if his intrusion will be unwanted, but the feeling of wrong is far more powerful than such a minor insecurity. Convinced, he lifts himself into the room, closing the window quietly behind him.
He trails Stiles’ scent to the adjacent bathroom, ears picking up the sound of shaking, stuttering breaths. The wrongness deepens, and he moves quickly across the room. The door is partially ajar, and Derek pushes it open slowly, unsure of what awaits on the other side.
Stiles is sitting on the edge of the bathtub, head hanging and shoulders quivering. He doesn’t look up at Derek’s arrival, nor does he look up when Derek says his name. His attention seems fixated on something in his hand; Derek has to crouch down to see what it is, and when he does, his breath momentarily escapes him.
Stiles is clutching a bottle of his medication, the pills discolored by the orange plastic of the bottle. His hands are trembling wildly, breathing becoming increasingly erratic until he’s on the point of hyperventilation.
Derek edges forward, movements calculated and deliberate so as to not startle him. He comes to kneel at Stiles’ side, fingers gently closing around the teenager’s. “Stiles,” he repeats, speaking more firmly this time.
The other’s grip on the bottle tightens for a second, but then Derek is able to pry it from Stiles’ hand. He sets it carefully on the ground without ever looking away from him.
Stiles continues to shake, and when he finally lifts his head, his gaze is broken and wretched, eyes swollen and bloodshot, face stained with tears.
“He said,” Stiles whispers, pausing to swallow thickly, “he said it was my fault. That I- that I killed her.”
His voice falters on the last word, and he falls against Derek, clinging to him like a lifeline. Derek catches him, pulling him close as Stiles breaks apart in his arms. He sobs miserably, pitifully, body wrecked with a grief born from years of baseless guilt. His fingers dig into the material of Derek’s shirt and to the skin beneath as if trying to ground himself there, but Derek doesn’t even flinch, the minute pain not registering as he awkwardly holds Stiles. He’s initially unsure of what to do, but then instinct takes over, and he rocks backwards, pulling the other into his lap.
“You didn’t,” he murmurs, “You didn’t kill her,” and he says nothing else.
They stay like that for quite some time, curled on the cold tile floor together, and the bottle of pills lies several feet away, long forgotten.
- 4 -
The click of the safety sounds like a bone snapping, and across the office, Stiles inhales sharply. His fear is palpable, and it makes Derek’s heart race, but he doesn’t look away from Matt and the barrel of the gun leveled between his eyes.
“Not to be cliche or anything,” Matt says, a smug grin curling the edges of his lips, “but I’m failing to see why I should keep you alive, because I’m guessing you’re just going to keep trying to kill me, right?”
Derek says nothing in response, neither confirming nor denying the accusation, although the truth is obvious to all of them. Matt tips the gun sideways, rolling his neck around until it cracks, the noise causing Stiles to shift uneasily.
“You tried killing my kanima, too,” continues Matt. “In fact, you seriously injured him. I can’t really let you get away with that, now can I?”
Hackles raised, Derek takes a step forward, only to freeze as a bullet imbeds itself in the floor near his foot. The sharp sting of wolfsbane fills the room, and dread settles in his gut. His head jerks up only to see Matt smirking at him, damn near simpering with satisfaction.
“Not really a fan of that smell, huh?” he drawls. “I took a lesson from the Argents, but I made it better. These aren’t just filled with wolfsbane, they’re coated in it, so the second it hits your bloodstream—”
“You wouldn’t fucking dare,” Stiles snarls from his position near the window, and when Derek glances at him, his expression is contorted with an animalistic rage he’s never witnessed in a human. It makes him hesitate, makes him pause, makes him take a little longer to acknowledge that if he gets shot with one of these bullets, it’ll kill him. The wolfsbane will enter his veins directly instead of breaking apart gradually. It will travel straight to his heart, and he’ll be dead, and Stiles has realized this and is furious and terrified and something in Derek aches with that knowledge.
Matt has eyes only for Derek, however, ignoring Stiles’ interruption. “So what’s it gonna be? Want it right in the brain? Or would that be too quick for you? You look like the kind of guy who’d enjoy suffering a slow, painful death. How about I shoot you in the foot?”
Inevitably, Derek’s eyes dart towards Stiles, and finally, finally, Matt seems to notice his presence. He follows Derek’s gaze, lets out a mocking, sly laugh. “Oh, don’t worry. Once I’m done with you, I’ll shoot him right in his smartass mouth.”
Several things happen at once.
Derek’s vision goes red with fury, and he roars, lunging forward as talons burst from the tips of his fingers and fangs erupt with a snarl, careless of dying and thinking only of Stiles, that he’ll rip out the necromancer’s entrails and bring the bastard down with him. Matt’s eyes go wide and he raises the gun, and he’s fast, all too fast, dark metal becoming a blur even as he pulls the trigger, and the gunshot rings like thunder.
He waits for the pain, waits for the agony of the poison, but there’s something between them and there’s blood and Stiles collapses to the ground, retching and coughing and clutching at his stomach.
As always, Derek doesn’t miss a beat.
He shouts Stiles’ name and it mutates into a guttural howl, resonating as he leaps over the teenager’s body to collide with Matt. This time, the necromancer isn’t fast enough, can’t bring the gun around from where it’s still directed at Stiles, and Derek’s claws plunge into his abdomen, wrenching out his intestines and tossing them to the floor in a shower of warm blood. Whatever cry Matt had begun to let out dies in his throat, the gun slipping from his fingers as Derek digs through his torso, shredding flesh and organs before he tears out Matt’s spinal cord with his teeth.
He spits the liquid and bone fragments out, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, giving a pleasured growl as his prey’s body settles its death throes and goes limp beneath him. Distantly, he hears a reptilian scream that could be the kanima, could be Jackson, and he relishes in it.
And then Stiles chokes out his name, and the haze of bloodlust and insanity is immediately cleared from Derek’s mind, as if a switch has been turned. He hastens to the other’s side; he’s coated with Matt’s blood but he thinks nothing of it, wasting not a moment as he pulls Stiles into his arms.
The wound in the teenager’s stomach is bleeding profusely, and he gasps with pain as Derek moves him. “Watch- watch it, what the fuck, man, can’t you see I’m dying here?”
The humor falls flat and Derek gnashes his fangs together. He wants to remove the bullet on instinct, but the wolfsbane poses no threat to Stiles, and some distant, logical part of Derek’s brain thinks that pulling the bullet out will only open the wound to bleed more freely.
Instead, he carefully peels Stiles’ shirt away, the green fabric stained dark, and places his hands on either side of the wound. Stiles grunts as Derek starts to apply pressure, tries to twist away even though he has no where to go, caged in Derek’s embrace.
“Shit,” Stiles groans, sagging against Derek, “You stubborn son of a bitch, let it go, just let me go.”
“Shut up,” Derek hisses.
Satisfied that he’s controlling the bleeding as best he can, Derek tilts his head back and howls, howls for their pack, for help, for anyone. He keeps at it even when he’s out of breath, even when Stiles’ eyes roll to white as he passes out, letting the haunting sound persist until he hears answering calls from Boyd and Scott and knows that the rest of the pack is coming for them.
After that, all he can do is hold Stiles close, and wait.
- 5 -
He sends Stiles into another trap, and this time, he’s too late.
Peter’s smile is dangerous and full of teeth, a nonverbal warning for Derek to stay where he is. Stiles thrashes in the Alpha’s grasp, fighting for air as Peter’s claws break fragile skin and send rivulets of blood trickling down his throat. The sight and scent of it makes Derek tremble with anger and snap at the air, fangs clicking together as they close on nothingness.
“Easy, now,” Peter chides. “Make one wrong move, and I’ll only kill him sooner.”
Derek reigns himself in as best he can, hanging onto his control by fraying threads. “Let him go,” he says, and if there’s a pleading tone to his voice, he doesn’t care. “This doesn’t involve him.”
“On the contrary,” Peter replies, “he’s been involved from the moment you laid eyes on him. When you claimed him as pack, you made him a target. And when I kill him, it’s going to be your fault, Derek. But that shouldn’t be a surprise - after all, people are always dying because of you, aren’t they?”
Derek falters as the anger turns to desperation, flames licking through his memory and obscuring the corners of his vision. Stiles goes still as Peter bares his throat, deadly bite hovering before being replaced by a tongue that laps up the blood. He lets out a low, fearful moan, features contorted with terror but also resignation, and Derek knows he’s come to the same conclusion: this is it. There is no way out of this situation. The true Alpha has won, Stiles is going to die, and no one will come to save them, no matter how loudly Derek howls.
Smoke filling his lungs, he tries again. “He’s an innocent. He doesn’t deserve this.”
“Even innocents die sometimes,” Peter says coldly, viciously, and Derek winces despite himself.
The other werewolf’s claws drag down the length of Stiles’ torso, shredding clothing and flesh and drawing a hoarse shout from the teenager. Derek’s eyes burn as he watches Stiles writhe in his uncle’s vice-like grip, only succeeding in maiming himself further until garnet liquid is dripping down his front in a gristly waterfall, splattering across his pale features in the most macabre fashion.
“Stop,” Derek begs, and he isn’t sure who he’s speaking to anymore.
Peter’s hands pause in the process of disemboweling Stiles in front of him, and for a moment, Derek feels a brief flicker of hope, thinking that Peter’s reconsidering. And then Stiles’ eyes meet his through wet lashes, and the look in them makes Derek’s heart fracture as a crumbling weight descends upon him like a plague, because he knows that look. He’s seen it before on faces being devoured by fire, lingering upon charred corpses and scorched floorboards.
And seeing it now, seeing it in Stiles’ gaze, breaks him more efficiently than anything else ever could.
It must show, and it must be what Peter was waiting to see, for he smiles in a satisfied way and raises one clawed hand, and then those claws plunge into Stiles’ chest and rip out his heart.
The scream that leaves Derek is raw and anguished, and the wolf takes over even as Peter swallows the still-beating heart, blood coursing down his chin. He’s gone by the time Derek crosses the distance, no matter how quickly he runs, and Derek collapses over Stiles’ mangled body with a ragged howl. The scent of Stiles’ blood consumes him, and his teeth tear into the boy’s shoulder, biting with intention and despair and when it’s done, he feels the anger drain away, leaving him broken and lying in a spreading pool of blood.
(let it go just let me go)
He holds Stiles close, and he waits.