It gets a little worse every time.
"Too early, too early, he lied to us and they're coming too early...did you send Isaac to the bridge?" The voice is raw, raspy. The words come out barely whispered, the sound of them as painful as though they're being spoken through a mouth of broken glass. Derek's own throat hurts in sympathy.
"I did," he promises quietly, fervently. He swallows heavily, biting his lip a little as he waits, watches, prays for a lessening of the frantic scratch of pen against paper. He watches desperately for some sign that the frenzy gripping the slight figure huddled on the floor in front of him, scribbling in a battered notebook, is easing.
Isaac isn't at any bridge, of course. Derek doesn't know what bridge is being talked about, doesn't know who is going to lie to them, or what will be coming early. He may not know for days or weeks or months...all he knows is the nonsensical babbling, the strange, disjointed words and phrases scrawled across the pages of the notebook will be important. Will perhaps be crucial in protecting his pack, keeping them alive.
"Good, that's good," Stiles mumbles, and his voice cracks on the last word, his abused vocal chords finally reaching their limit. He keeps talking, though, the words tumbling from dry, cracked lips in brittle wheezes and croaks, too quiet for even Derek's ears to pick up.
Three days. It's been three days this time.
Three days since Stiles suddenly fell to his knees in the middle of a training session, his eyes filming over with the eerie, pale gold glow that they've all become familiar with over the past year and a half. Three days since he threw his head back and screamed, his body jerking and twitching as though he was being attacked right in front of them.
Three days since they've been able to get him to eat anything, since they've been able to do more than dribble a few mouthfuls of water into him.
Derek shuffles closer to Stiles' side, everything in him straining with the need to gather him close, to wrap his body around him and hold him until he stops trembling, until the light leaves his eyes, until he finally sleeps, and Derek can see for himself that Stiles is no longer hurting. He holds himself back, though, having learned through too many harsh examples that his touch will only make things worse.
In front of him, Stiles suddenly keens, rocking forward and shuddering as though he's been struck. He presses his forehead against the floor of their bedroom for a moment, his body shaking under the force of invisible blows. Derek can't help the growl that rips out of him as bruises bloom out of nowhere on Stiles' sickly pale skin, blossoming up and down his arms before disappearing under the sleeves of his sweat-soaked T-shirt. They blossom black and ugly, fading to purple, green, and yellow almost instantly, before disappearing entirely only seconds after they appear.
He's seen so many bruises chase their way across Stiles' skin. So many cuts and welts and burns. He's seen bullet wounds erupt in fountains of blood before closing themselves up again. He still has nightmares about the time Stiles' throat split open in front of him, the jagged slice of a blade that left Stiles choking and gurgling on his own blood before the wound sealed itself and disappeared.
Derek swallows hard, and outside the door, he hears the rest of the pack whine their distress. He'd ordered them out, sent them to try and get some sleep hours ago...but he knows they won't. They'll huddle together out in the great room, all senses trained on him and Stiles until Stiles is finally himself again.
Stiles shudders again before he goes at the notebook with renewed vigor. The golden light in his eyes isn't fading--that terrible light that illuminates dangers on the horizon, threats to the pack.
That terrible light that Derek is terrified is going to burn Stiles alive from the inside out.
"I'm here," he says softly, his hands aching to touch, to soothe. It won't help, though...not when Stiles is so lost in the visions he wouldn't be able to tell Derek's touch from the phantom touch of whatever's assaulting him in the vision.
"I'm here," he repeats. It's all he can do...agree with whatever mad ramblings spill out of his mate's mouth and reassure him over and over that he's not alone. All the while hating how helpless he is, hating that he can't protect Stiles from this.
That was the purpose, of course.
He relives it every time this happens, sees the witch's cruel smirk as she hurls the curse with her dying breath.
It's meant to be a curse, a torment. It's meant to be torture. Stiles is meant to be tortured by the visions of things he can't prevent, to feel every injury that will be dealt to him and the people he loves, to know how they'll suffer...while Derek is forced to watch, helpless.
It's meant to be torture--and it is.
But the goddamned bitch who did this to Stiles certainly isn't the first to underestimate the human. Derek doubts very much she will be the last.
Even Deaton had startled back, his normally implacable facade cracking, the first time he was able to observe Stiles in the throes of a vision. The old vet-who-was-so-much-more had stared at Stiles as he mumbled and muttered to himself, scribbling out details of his vision on anything that would hold ink, something a little awestruck in the man's eyes.
"He shouldn't be able to do that," Deaton had murmured, leafing through the pages Stiles abandoned for fresh ones as the vision progressed. "He shouldn't be able to make sense of the things he sees...shouldn't be able to hold onto them when he comes out of it. This isn't suppose to help people, Derek, it's supposed to hurt."
But it does. It does. It hurts Stiles so much, and it hurts the pack to see him suffer like this and it kills Derek inside to see his mate in such pain.
It gets a little worse every time. The visions get more violent, the fits last longer, and Stiles burns with a feverish energy that sometimes seems like it will sear him to ashes.
Derek fears to the core of his soul that someday, Stiles just won't come out of it. That the horrible, horrible golden light won't leave his eyes, and he'll be lost in the visions forever.
A sharp inhalation instantly draws his attention. He tenses even more, almost afraid to hope...but Stiles' fingers are slowing in their frantic scribbles. The broken, rasping mumbles start to taper off and now, now, Derek uncurls himself, reaching for Stiles.
"Hey, hey, come on now...come back to us. Come back to me," he whispers, brushing the notebook and pen away from Stiles' suddenly limp fingers. He shuffles around to kneel in front of Stiles, cradling his pale, clammy face in his hands. The golden light flickers, dims, as Stiles blinks sluggishly and focuses, really focuses, on Derek for the first time in three days.
"Hey," Derek greets again, relief sweeping through him. Stiles's eyes are glazed, faraway, and Derek knows he's still half-lost in whatever he's just seen...but those eyes are a bloodshot whiskey-brown now, and now Derek can help. "You're all right," he says softly. "I'm here, we're all here...just come back to us, Stiles."
Outside, he hears the pack stumble collectively to their feet, hears them start rushing down the hall to crowd together outside their bedroom. He ignores them for now, though, focusing all his attention on Stiles.
"Der...Derek?" Stiles suddenly chokes out, the words barely catching on the exhalation of breath, barely audible. Stiles swallows roughly, his whole body starting to shake--with hunger, with exhaustion, with strain. He starts to slump to one side, and Derek instantly slides his arms around Stiles' waist, pulling him tight against his body.
"I've got you," he says, giving into the brief temptation to bury his face in the crook of Stiles' neck, scenting for any injury beyond the hunger and the exhaustion, pressing his lips gently against the thrum of Stiles' pulse. "You're okay, I've got you."
He gathers Stiles' unresisting body up close, standing with ease. Stiles' eyes flutter a little at the sudden change in altitude, but one hand raises to weakly curl around Derek's neck.
"Saw...I saw--" he starts, his voice too raw to even be classed as a whisper. Derek pulls him more tightly against his chest, halting the words.
"We'll talk later. I've got the notes," he says firmly. Pages and pages of notes--scrawled messages that Stiles shouldn't be able to leave for them, except that Stiles is one of the strongest people he's ever seen...and of course he would find a way to fight through whatever hell the visions trapped him in. Find a way to use it to protect the pack.
He hears light footsteps, the cadence identifying Erica, scurrying away from the still closed door. A moment later he hears the taps turn on in the bathroom down the hall--the one with the huge tub--and knows the pack is scrambling to get things ready to take care of Stiles. Boyd's heavier tread sounds towards the kitchen, and Derek knows there will be hot soup and plenty of Gatorade waiting whenever Stiles rouses enough for it.
He shifts Stiles in his arms, tucking his head beneath his chin, and carries him swiftly across the length of their room. The door swings open as he approaches, and Isaac and Scott practically fall over themselves in their need to see for themselves that Stiles is all right.
He doesn't need to be able to see Stiles' face to know that his eyes are still tracking restlessly back and forth, staring vaguely at nothing. He can tell by the worried pinch of Scott's lips, the high whine in Isaac's throat. Stiles' hand is warm on his neck though, fingers fluttering against his nape, and he knows Stiles is working his way out of the daze. Their hands trail over Stiles' shoulders and side as he carries him past, needing to touch him after three days of being forced to stand back and watch as he writhed, and muttered, and bled, and screamed.
Erica is waiting by the bathroom door, one hand reaching up to delicately stroke through Stiles' sweat-matted hair with a gentleness she hardly ever shows when he's conscious. Derek nods his thanks shortly as she steps aside, revealing the steaming bath, and a pile of fresh towels sitting on the closed toilet lid. He kicks the door closed behind him, sighing softly as the tension in his shoulders starts to dissipate for the first time in three days.
"We--we need...did you--send Isaac...the bridge..." Stiles' voice cracks and creaks, painful to hear.
"It hasn't happened yet," Derek says, pitching his voice low, soothing. "We've got time."
He sets Stiles down on the edge of the tub, keeping a firm arm around him as he quickly and efficiently strips him out of his sour, sweat-stained clothes. Stiles lets Derek move him like a doll, docile and pliant in a way that twists something inside of Derek's chest.
"H-Hasn't happ--" Stiles trails off, shaking his head slightly. He blinks slowly, focusing on Derek's face with a little more awareness. Derek rests his forehead against Stiles' a moment, before leaning back to awkwardly strip out of his own clothes, keeping one arm around Stiles' back the entire time.
"It hasn't happened," he reassures again. "Let it go." When they're both naked, he settles them in the warm water, pulling Stiles to rest against his chest.
He takes a few moments to just hold Stoles against him, stroking one hand up and down Stiles' arm as he just breathes in the scent of the one he loves. Fine tremors are still running through Stiles' body, and his head lolls against Derek's neck...but after a few minutes, his hand slides up to tangle with Derek's, squeezing his fingers.
"Derek?" he whispers, and finally the vagueness has left his weak, raw voice.
Inwardly, Derek nearly wilts in relief.
"Yeah," he says, reaching up with his free hand to run it through Stiles' hair. He leans forward as Stiles cranes his neck around to meet his eyes, kissing Stiles the way he's been desperate to do for three days. "Yeah, I'm here," he says when he finally pulls back. Stiles hums softly in acknowledgement, before swallowing with evident pain.
"Heard you," he mumbles, his eyes sliding closed, bruise-dark shadows standing out on the delicate skin under them. "Always....hear you."
Derek doesn't answer, just grabs the washcloth and the shower gel where Erica left them sitting in easy reach, and starts gently scrubbing Stiles' body. He feels Stiles going more and more limp against him, more asleep than awake, and he softens his movements still further. He'll have to wake him up to at least drink something...but Stiles needs rest more than almost anything else.
It gets a little worse every time.
But no matter how lost Stiles gets in the visions, as long as there is breath in his body, Derek will always be there to call him back.