The shouts and growls faded overhead, and dust and debris from the crumbling upper level of the warehouse pattered around them like rain.
"We have to stop meeting like this," Stiles said into the silence. A beat, and he added, "And by 'like this' I mean 'paralyzed by evil lizard venom and helpless while a battle rages all around us.'"
Derek didn't bother to answer. He concentrated instead on the sound of the others leading the kanima away, the reptilian shrieks growing softer as it fled. Just before Erica had left them, she had leaned over him with a sharp little smile and said, "Got to jump start the healing process." Then she had bent three of his fingers backwards as far as they would go; the bones had cracked and snapped under the pressure.
It was, he thought, a lot more gentle than he deserved.
But it worked. He could feel the bones knitting together already, always more painful than the break, and the all-too-familiar sensation of his body burning away the kanima's venom.
"It could be worse," Stiles said.
Derek groaned. But he had to ask. "Really?"
"Uh, seriously?" Stiles made a sound almost like a laugh, but it turned into a rough cough. "Haven't you been keeping track?"
Derek could only see Stiles's feet, nothing more; his head was angled the wrong way and it would be another ten minutes or so before he regained enough control to turn it. He opened his mouth to ask--something, are you okay or how hurt are you, but before he could, Stiles recovered and went on, his voice hoarse, "Dude, this doesn't even rank in the top three most traumatic paralyzing venom experiences of our lives. I could be watching some guy get crushed to death right in front of me. Or treading water for two hours to keep your soggy ass from drowning. Or in the station while..."
Stiles trailed off.
Right. In the station. None of them like to talk about that night, and how badly everything went wrong.
Somewhere in the warehouse, the kanima screamed. Derek hoped it wasn't wishful thinking that made it sound more scared than furious.
When the sound faded, Stiles laughed again, but it was an ugly, wet noise, his breath all wrong.
"Stiles," Derek said. "Are you--"
"So this one time," Stiles said, too quickly, "it was in fourth grade--maybe fifth. No, fourth, because of Mrs. Pemmerling. She smelled like Lysol, which, no, I don't want to think about why an old lady schoolteacher would smell like Lysol. What, was she bathing in it? But it was fourth grade, and we had this stupid project to do. A shoebox diorama. You ever have to do one of those? You can tell me, I'll keep your secret. I know you were a totally normal kid before..." Stiles coughed roughly. There was a pained wheeze in the sound and, fuck, Derek could smell blood, had been smelling blood since the kanima had cornered them and they fell. "So I did this stupid diorama of the old west. My--my mom helped me cut out cactuses--cacti? it's got to be cacti--from construction paper and the whole deal, and this donkey and this gold miner and... it was awesome."
There was a long pause filled with ragged breaths before Stiles went on. "So I brought it into school and I don't know--something was wrong in one of the bathrooms, a leak or Moaning Myrtle or whatever, but there was water all over the hallway and the teachers were trying to clean it up and Jackson--"
The kanima shrieked distantly. Still in the building, but not near them. Derek heard Boyd bellow and Scott answer, and he didn't let himself admit even the tiniest bit of relief. He would know if they were hurt too badly to fight. He would know.
"Yes, that Jackson," Stiles said. He still sounded too weak, but there was a thread of amusement in his voice, familiar and warm, and Derek knew if he could see, Stiles would be rolling his eyes. "That Jackson grabbed my old west diorama right out of my hands as I was going into Mrs. Pemmerling's classroom and he threw it into that huge puddle of water and it, well, it was cardboard and construction paper. It disintegrated. Jackson thought that was really funny." He coughed again, muttered a quiet, "Fuck, that hurts."
Derek raised his voice to ask, "Stiles, how badly are you hurt?"
"The point is," Stiles said, completely ignoring the question, "if you had asked anybody, anybody at all, in the whole entire world, anybody who has ever met Jackson and spent five fucking minutes in his presence, they would have told you, happily, that the very last thing he needed was a magically-powered boost to his natural tendencies toward violence and aggression and seriously, Derek, why the fuck did you bite that asshole?"
"I didn't--" Derek stopped, clicked his teeth shut against the anger and annoyance. He didn't have to defend himself, even if he could find a way to explain.
"Never mind," Stiles said. He let out a sigh. "I really hate being paralyzed by evil lizard venom. I hate that this is something that happens so often in my life that I have a reason to hate it."
"At least nobody's in danger of drowning this time," Derek said. The bones in his fingers were stronger now, still brittle but almost healed, and his could just barely bend his fingers through the fiery ache. He rocked one foot from side to side, then another, and slowly began to draw one knee up.
"Nobody was in danger of drowning last time," Stile said. "Time before last time. Maybe we should start numbering our venom paralysis events, for easy reference."
"I was paralyzed on the bottom of the pool. That's what 'drowning' means." Derek worked on getting his other leg to move. Shaking off the kanima's venom did not, unfortunately, get any easier with practice, but the lash this time have been glancing, caught his jacket collar before nicking his skin. Lucky. It was the only thing that had gone slightly less than wildly wrong all night.
"What, seriously?" Stiles sounded a little clearer now, less like he was trying to speak through blood in his throat. "You didn't think--oh my god. You thought I was going to leave you there."
Both legs, now, and both arms, but when he tried to sit up, he wasn't quite successful. He fell back with a grunt and closed his eyes, squeezed his hand into a fist again and breathed through the pain.
"I wouldn't have done that," Stiles said quietly. "I mean, I get it, I know there are two kinds of people in your world, the ones who try to kill you and the ones who haven't met you yet, and you expect, yeah, but I--I wouldn't have done that."
Derek didn't answer. He just tried to sit up again, and didn't stop this time until he had managed it. He was thinking about progressing to standing upright when there was sudden movement above him, and Erica's head appeared in the hole in the ceiling, her blonde hair swinging around her face.
"Peter's here," she said. She jumped down to pull Derek to his feet, didn't let go until he was steady enough to fake it. There was a smear of blood on her chin, a dusting of plaster on her clothes, and she smelled like motor oil and surging adrenaline. "He's waiting for you."
"Stay here," Derek said to her, then he looked down at Stiles. There was blood seeping through his shirt and he had fallen at an awkward angle, with one arm tucked behind his back. But his eyes were clear and his heartbeat was steady. "You too."
"Funny. Ha." Stiles rolled his eyes, and he made a face when Erica dropped to her knees beside him and tugged up the bottom of his t-shirt. "Whoa, bad touch wolf, what are you doing?"
She snorted and looked over her shoulder at Derek. "It's not that serious. Go deal with Peter.
"Yes, go," Stiles said. "Deal with him. Permanently this time."
"That's the plan."
"You make terrible plans!" Stiles shouted after him, and Erica laughed.
But Derek was already climbing up through the ceiling and running--toward the kanima's scream, toward the snarls that meant Isaac was on the offensive, toward the low echo of Peter's laughter in the far corner of the warehouse.