It looks like rain again. The sky has that particular steely, overcast look about it that always precedes a good old-fashioned thunderstorm. Stiles stares at it for a moment or two, imagining flashes of lightning etching stark shadows against the walls of his room. They’d look like monsters, he knows. Reaching, clawing monsters come to snatch him away into the night. He presses his face against the cool glass of the window pane and watches the condensation form with each breath he takes. It’s too dirty to even make out his reflection by much, but at least he can still marvel at nature and physics.
Someone’s coming up the stairs. It’s not his dad though. His dad doesn’t come knocking on his door anymore; hasn’t done it for a while now. Stiles figures it must be part of the whole you’re-a-grown-man-now schtick and leaves it at that.
“Come on in,” he calls when the footfalls stop outside his bedroom door, cheek still against the window. He’s never realized just how fascinating the peeling paint on the sill is before. There’s a distinct snick behind him as the door opens, followed by the shuffle of feet and a fit of discomfited throat clearing. Stiles knows who his visitor is by virtue of that sound alone.
“If it isn’t Mr Grumpywolf himself come to call on little Red Riding Stiles,” he offers brightly, turning to face Derek. “Wow buddy, I hate to be the one to tell you this, but you look like death warmed over. Have you been eating properly? I mean, ‘cause I read somewhere I think, that too much protein can kill you, you know?”
Derek does indeed look kind of worse for wear. His perma-stubble is threatening to turn into a full-blown beard and his cheeks are far too hollow for just good genetics to give accounting for. And maybe it’s a trick of the light, but it seems as though there’s flecks of grey peppering his hair. Ridiculous. But it’s his eyes that are somehow the worst. Instead of the usual vitriol, there is a sad, kicked-puppy kind of look about them that Stiles can’t place. It’s disconcerting. No, scratch that, it’s downright fucking creepy.
“How are you feeling?” Derek asks, and whoa there, since when have the two of them been on a care-and-commiseration basis, because last time Stiles checked, Derek Hale didn’t just ask mere humans how they were doing. Or feeling, yeah; feeling is the word Derek used.
Stiles flops onto his stomach on the bed and squints up at Derek. From this vantage point, he looks like a mountain, all imposing bulk and spiky top. “’M fine,” he offers, plucking at a stray fibre. A couple of seconds pass during which Stiles wonders, vaguely, if pulling out the fibre means he’ll unravel one of the sheets or something and then he glances up at Derek again. Who hasn’t said anything back and who’s just standing there in the middle of Stiles’ room like a great big hunk of werewolf granite with his fists clenched at his sides.
Stiles idly watches the flex of Derek’s fingers. He probably wants to extend his claws or something, because God knows, if he were a werewolf, he’d more than likely want to kill himself too. It’s the one thing no one gets about ADD sufferers; it’s that sometimes, they feel jumpy in their own skin, like they’re just not made to fit right anywhere.
But Derek catches him watching and he forces himself to relax, like it takes all of his willpower to do it. “I just came to check up on you,” he grits out. And at that, Stiles bursts out laughing.
“You came to check up on me? What is this, Nanny 911? Since when do you check up on me? I mean, I get you checking up on Scott or Isaac or even Jackson, but me? You never do that.” The laughter dies in his throat though when Derek moves, prowling closer and Stiles has all of one moment to think, You just couldn’t keep your big fat mouth shut, could you? He closes his eyes and tenses for the blow, already throwing up his arms in front of his face for defence.
No blows land, no death threats are made. Stiles lowers his arms and peers up at Derek who’s standing at the foot of the bed, hand hovering in the space between them like he wants to pat Stiles on the head or something equally insane. His face is an absolute mess of emotion, and Stiles wants to laugh at that some more, but then again, he’s never seen Derek look so helplessly broken before and so the need to just tapers off.
“Stiles,” Derek says, and if Stiles didn’t know any better, he’d say Derek’s voice almost sounds pleading. It just doesn’t sound right though, coming from him. Pleading isn’t what Alphas do; it’s not what Derek does and Stiles’ face scrunches in confusion as he tries to place the tone in context to their situation.
It’s then that he notices the bandages. They wind up and down his arms like tattered ribbons, and for some reason, he thinks of maypoles. There are faint spots of reddish brown caught in the gauze, and if Stiles didn’t know any better, he’d say it was blood. But that’s impossible, because Stiles knows blood, he’s seen it enough times on his friends and on the ground and on himself to know what it looks like.
“Why…” he begins, but the words stick in his throat and he gives Derek an incredulous look.
“Stiles,” he says, and the pleading is back full force and ready to rumble. “Stop it. I’m begging you, please just stop this.” His hands circle both Stiles’ wrists, firm but gentle – since when, Stiles thinks, since when has he ever been gentle with – and then he tugs lightly until Stiles gets it and sits up on his knees like he’s a show-dog performing for the first place rosette.
“What’s going on?” Stiles asks, because this right here is just fucked-up.
“You’re… Stiles, try to remember,” Derek pleads, and God, Stiles never thought he’d think it, but he hates the sound of it. “You don’t remember? Try Stiles. Just try, okay?”
Stiles closes his eyes, tries to block out the reedy whine of Derek’s not-Derek voice and tries to focus on breathing. He can feel panic worming its way into his chest, pressing down like a fist on his lungs and numbing first his arms and then his legs in an ever-widening circle. He needs to breathe, he needs air in his lungs and oh God, his brain is telling him they’re empty, so empty but he knows they’re not and he has to, has to just –
“I’m here,” Derek says, and Stiles comes back slowly, like he’s swimming up from the bottom of a lake, trying to reach the surface. He’s distantly aware of the rise and fall of a chest pressed against his back, the rhythmic beat of a heart loud in his ears. “I’m here, and I’m not letting go, Stiles.”
Derek is breathing for him; with him and slowly, gradually, the panic ebbs, easing out of his muscles and his mind and just… draining away. And then it’s just him, sitting hunched over on the bed with Derek a solid weight at his back, still holding his wrists in that he’s-fragile-he-might-break-if-I-touch-too-hard way.
“What’s happening to me?” Stiles asks, turning to Derek, and hey, guess what? It wasn’t just the light playing tricks on his eyes before. Derek’s face is contoured by tiny little lines that have left impressions everywhere, like infinitesimal road maps marking his skin. And there is grey in his hair, little wings of it starting to form at his temples and even a streak or two in his almost-beard now that he’s close enough for Stiles to really notice it.
“You really don’t remember.” It’s not a question. No, it sounds way too resigned for it to ever even be considered one. And just like that, Stiles realizes what that earlier emotion he’d seen had been. Disappointment, maybe even with a big old side serving of regret. Derek heaves a sigh so loud it sounds like the howl of the wind rattling around the eaves of a house.
“How old are you, Stiles?” he asks. Which, what?
“Seventeen,” Stiles ventures, but before the word is even completely off his tongue he can tell how wrong it is. It hits him like a punch to the gut. Derek’s eyes say it loud and clear, and when Stiles looks away and continues, he’s just saying out loud what both of them already know.
“But I’m not really, am I? Seventeen?”
“No,” Derek says, and Stiles has never heard someone pour that much hurt into one syllable before. They stay quiet for a while, with Derek pressed against his back until eventually, the pitter-pat of rain starts thrumming against the window.
“This is why there are no mirrors in my room, right? Derek, how old am I?” Stiles asks, mustering his courage for an answer he doesn’t really want. Derek shifts behind him as though he wants to wrap himself around Stiles to soften the blow.
“You’re turning twenty five in two months. And yes, that’s why there are no mirrors.” The words hit home and they hit hard. Stiles can feel the panic creep back in at the edges, but Derek tightens his hold as though he knows exactly what Stiles’ traitorous body is trying to do. Which, right, werewolves have a super keen sense of smell, duh.
After a deep breath, Stiles steels himself. “Why don’t I know this?”
Derek is silent for far longer than Stiles feels comfortable with. “Do you trust me enough to tell you that you won’t be able to cope with the details right now and that I’m just going to give you the condensed version?”
Stiles mulls this over. On the one hand, the burning need to get to the bottom of what the hell is wrong with everything, including him, is overwhelming. It feels like someone has taken a sledge hammer to his rational train of thought and obliterated it beyond repair.
But on the other hand, his body already feels like it’s about to seize up, and he’s not sure if he can handle any more shock than what he’s already experienced. So in the end, he nods acquiescence at the bed and tries not to think about what might be so potentially scarring to his mental health that Derek, of all people, actually feels the need to shield him from himself.
Derek draws another deep breath. “There was a fight – ” he begins, and Stiles snorts, because when isn’t there a fight in Beacon Hills, the supernatural playground of rural California? Derek actually waits to see if Stiles will crack up or not before continuing.
“There was a fight and you were shot. The bullet ricocheted off your skull, but it still caused trauma. I… I don’t know much about it, other than that – you were in a coma for a little over a year. And when you woke up, you were like this. Forgetful.”
Stiles is tempted to ask Derek if he means broken instead, but thinks better of it. “So what, do I have some kind of memory loss or something?”
“Melissa says it’s some kind of neurological disturbance that causes you to relapse sometimes. You’re not always like this, Stiles. That’s why I asked how you were feeling.”
“Is it curable?”
Again, his words are greeted only with a pregnant pause. “Oh,” Stiles says, beating Derek to it. “Well.” The aching prick of tears feels like fire at the back of his throat, but Stiles blinks them back desperately. He’s not crying, not now, not in front of Derek.
“I’m sorry,” Derek says faintly, pressing his face in the space between Stiles’ shoulder-blades. “I knew as soon as I saw you that today wouldn’t be good.”
“It’s not your fault,” Stiles mutters, tugging his arms free of Derek’s grip to press a hand to the fever-burn of his eyes.
“Yes it is,” Derek says, voice sharp against his spine, and Stiles fumbles a bit before he manages to turn to face him. Derek sits up, seems to draw himself up like he’s spoiling for a fight, but his shoulders are slumped and his hands hang limp between his thighs.
“What?” It seems that Stiles has exhausted the surprising extent of his vocabulary for today, because all he can do is repeat stupidly, “What?”
“I’m the reason you’re like this,” Derek bites out, voice dangerously low. “You wouldn’t have gotten shot if you hadn’t… God, forget it. You’ve heard enough for one day. I’m not doing this to you again.” And just like that he’s up and off the bed, heading for the door.
“Wait!” Stiles calls after him; hands reaching out blindly. But it’s too late and Derek is gone, door banging shut before Stiles even has the time to register the fact. “Wait,” he breathes again. From the hall comes the sound of feet barging down the stairs, and then the front door opens and slams shut and everything is quiet again.
Derek’s not coming back. Outside, the rain comes down like a sluice opening. Stiles sits back on his haunches, staring at the door before dropping his gaze to his bandaged arms. I’m not doing this to you again, Derek’s words echo in the beats between peals of thunder.
Slowly, Stiles starts unwrapping the bandages.
“How is he?” Scott asks when Derek opens the car door, voice anxious.
“It’s a bad day,” Derek offers tersely.
“Did you tell him? About… about you and him? About how his dad –“
“I told him as much as he needed to know,” Derek snaps, and Scott subsides. It’s all too much though, and Derek twists sharply, digs his claws into the headrest of his seat and yanks viciously before heaving it out the open window with a frustrated roar.
“So he still doesn’t know everything, does he? It still hasn’t come back fully?” He hates how Scott almost whispers it, as though speaking about it out loud might jinx them.
“No,” Derek sighs, running a hand over his face. He’s just so tired these days. Tired of doing this every goddamn time; doing this to Stiles. Doing it to himself. “But he connected the dots pretty fast today. Only one panic attack, too.”
Scott gives him a sympathetic look that takes all of Derek’s considerable reserve of self-control not to just beat his face in for. Calm, he needs to stay calm.
“That’s good though, right? It means that he’s recovering,” Scott shoots him a small, hopeful smile. And Derek, Derek really can’t stand any more false promises, so he gives Scott a small nod.
“I hope so.”
Scott lays a hand on his shoulder then, and Derek just eases into it, allows the familiarity of comfort soothe him. Scott still isn’t really pack, and probably never will be, but at least they have their mutual concern for Stiles’ well-being to bind them, and that’s better than going it alone.
They sit like that for a minute or two before Derek pulls away to start the car. “You know you’re going to have to tell him though, right?”
“No,” Derek mutters. “Once was enough and look how that turned out. Besides, I’m the reason he’s in that house in the first place, with a dead father and no fucking clue about what’s going on.”
“He’s your mate,” Scott points out and Derek feels his wolf rage against the confines of his consciousness.
“Yes, he is. And that means telling him is my responsibility,” Derek says pointedly.
“He risked his life to save you, Derek. He loved you. He still does, most likely. You can’t keep blaming yourself for this,” Scott whines gutturally.
“I’m not having this conversation,” Derek barks. “Not with you, not right now, Scott.” Scott gives him a stubborn glare that almost has him wolfing out, but Derek manages to scrape himself together into a semblance of control.
The Camaro purrs to life and then they’re pulling away from the sidewalk in front of the Stilinski house. Derek imagines he can see Stiles sitting with his face pressed against the window pane. He shakes his head and when he looks again, there’s no one there. He’ll come back tonight, he thinks. Just in case.