Stiles feels about hospitals the way most people feel about mad cow disease. They are deceptively dangerous, dormant. And then, over an unspecified number of years, they destroy your life.
So, it sucks more than he allows himself to say . . .having to be here again. Having to watch his dad through the oblong window in the door. Being tall enough to do it this time is the worst. His body rocks forward, breath fogging the glass, and Stiles blinks at the other occupant of his dad’s recovery room. Lydia had gotten a private room. Guess the Sheriff didn’t garner special treatment. Not that he’d have asked for it even if he’d been able.
Not drunk. Just exhausted. He nods to himself. Not drunk. Like a bass-ackwards keg-stand chant. Not drunk, just exhausted. It’s two in the morning on a Thursday and Stiles’ dad is going to live to shout at him another day because he was not drunk, just exhausted, and drove his truck straight into a ditch.
His chest tightens.
“Hey, you ready to go?”
A little tighter still, and then an arcing pain through his ribs. Stiles turns to see Scott’s mom, pretty eyes and crisp scrubs, even this late (no early) in her shift.
“I don’t know. I guess. Yeah.” She’s short, he thinks, and she’s also at the end of a shrinking tunnel as he sways a little on his feet. Then she’s perfectly clear right in front of him. That’s. . .never good, neither is the scrunching concern on her face. He wants to say Lady, you don’t know the half of it and hope it hides the million-icicle strain of what’s creeping across his chest. Stiles holds up a finger, toes trembling in his Vans. “Can you give me a minute? I’m gonna . . .go . . .out. Outside.”
“One minute, Ms. M.”
He bolts for the stairs, because please God no elevators and if he pukes in the stairwell maybe no one will find it for a while. By the time he lurches outside, two or three blind steps into the parking lot, Stiles can feel the tremor in his feet snaking toward his calves. Awesome. There’s a bottle of something he could use but it’s in his backpack. At home.
“Please don’t.” He whimpers to the asphalt between his shoes, where he’s bent and clasping the minor meat of his thighs. Where’s all the air when you need it, huh? He gasps but it’s just not enough. There’s blackened gum there, shiny with age, and it starts to diminish in a tunnel, too. That stripe of pain squeezes his chest again, hard as a wrestler with something to prove, and Stiles would give anything to never go through this again. Oh God, Mo-
“Run.” A voice commands him from up ahead. Not up above, though, because that would be nuts. No this is close, dark but not threatening, and when he looks across the pools of sodium light Stiles sees Derek among the cars. “Trust me, just run.”
“Are you insane? I’m not. I’m not.” He can’t finish, but not because he’s blank on what to say. Never been a problem, and he’s not starting now. Stiles can’t quip, can’t finish a goddamn sentence because he can’t breathe. And breathing, as it turns out, is sort of necessary for all kinds of cool shit. Chief among said cool shit: telling off bossy werewolves, and . . . living. “I can’t.”
Derek gives him a look like nothing he’s seen so far. Up to know it’s been looks of disapproval, distrust. Once there’d been a watery look, blue-green and hopeless, and once, on the floor of the vet clinic, a grateful smile so fleeting that Scott hadn’t caught it. But now it’s a look like he cares, and to Stiles it feels like a palm on his chest, splayed, pushing him out of harm’s way. Derek’s hands go up. “You’re having a pa-”
“I KNOW what I’m hav-having.” His head whips around, eyes casting in the parking lot blur for an exit. But he’s outside, so it’s all exit. Too much choice and no guide-
“Then do what I say.” Derek says. Calm, so calm it hurts. He gets it, why people follow him.
“Kill one Alpha and suddenly you’re the boss of everyone. I don’t ha-have to.” It would be a shame to keel over and never say I hope you choke on a bone, Lassie. Because it had been his mom’s favorite show, and Lassie had been a boy.
“Stiles. Run.” Derek doesn’t come forward, but he sounds like Coach, and Stiles tells his vibrating legs to run because Derek’s calm voice tells him to, because his legs are screaming like tires going off-road, because Dad’s not drunk, just exhausted. And if he runs maybe everything will be okay. The parking lot disappears as he rounds the curb heading out toward Main, Vans slapping the black pavement.
For the first time since they started happening, Stiles feels like the panic attack won’t win. His jostling lungs fill up with a more welcome pain, like during practice, and he’s suddenly super glad he never took up smoking to piss off his parents. Parent.
Running siphons off the greater spikes in his chest, and when he reaches Main, Stiles slows to find Derek’s Mustang creeping along beside him. This time, when he grabs his knees, panting, it doesn’t feel like the end of the world. No hospital dark times. Derek rolls down the passenger window as Stiles grips the door.
“How. How did you know?”
“It’s . . .pretty common.” Derek slides a hand off the wheel, dropping it to his door, and Stiles watches his town’s Alpha dickhead try to hide the closest thing to puppy-dog eyes he’s ever seen on an adult. Who’s also a dog. While Derek’s lapse in brood disappears, Stiles forgets how red those eyes can get, and thinks of the Hale house burning. Under his hand, the door lock thumps dully. “Get in.”
“Nothing good ever happens after someone says that on a dark road.” He shakes his head against the tendrils of black creeping around his vision. Stiles fishes his phone out of his jeans. Two-twenty. Derek’s shaking his head, too, glaring through the windshield. “I’m supposed to go to Scott’s.”
Derek’s jaw jumps, but his grimace doesn’t quite reach the totally bizarre kindness lingering around his eyes. It doesn’t tug those black brows low.
“I’ll take you.”
“Look, just. I’ll run back to the hospital. That’s a good plan. Responsible.” He nods, but mostly he’s thinking of the backpack. Sweet, sweet backpack full of pills.
“Do you want to go back there?” Derek’s voice dips and it pins Stiles to the road like hot tar. The voice of a man who went back when he shouldn’t have; if that’s not worth a little trust, even for a night, then what is? The band around his chest threatens to flare. Derek blinks at him. “Or do you want to go home?”
Stiles slips into the leather seat.