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There's Magic Between You and I

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Stiles whimpers when he tries to move. His whole body protests it, and when he looks down to survey the damage, he can understand why. Several cuts run down the inside of his forearms, though Derek's claws thankfully didn't go very deep there. Unfortunately, he cannot say the same about his torso. It's much worse off, with long gashes running down both of his sides that still sluggishly bleed red onto the carpet beneath him. "Derek?!" he calls out hoarsely, his heart sinking when all the answer he gets is silence. His ass twinges painfully when he rolls onto his stomach, but he tries to breathe though it as he pushes himself up onto his knees and stands on shaky feet. His head spins, he guesses because of the blood loss, so he has to hold a hand out along the wall as he makes his way into the bathroom. The trail of red he leaves along the paint goes unnoticed.

The overhead light is blinding when he flips it on, so he stumbles blindly over to the sink and leans his hands on the rim while he waits for his eyes to adjust. Once they do, he stares dazedly at himself in the mirror.

He can't believe what just happened.

Never did he think he'd be put in a position like that, least of all with his beloved Derek. He knows he'll probably be more upset about everything later, but his emotions feel muted, like they're far away or they belong to someone else. A voice in the back of his mind tells him that he's just in shock, but he pays it no attention.

Almost as if he's running on autopilot, Stiles retrieves the first aid kit he stores in the cupboard under the sink, pushing through the pain when he crouches down and all his wounds throb brightly. Standing straight again with clenched teeth, he flips open the box and gets more blood everywhere as he searches through everything kept within, looking for disinfectant, gauze and medical tape. He begins patching himself up as best he can without really watching what he's doing, and when he finishes cleaning the last gash that runs along the ribs of his right side, he pauses and turns to stare through the door into the bedroom when he hears what sounds like an engine approaching from far off in the distance. As far as he knew, the pack had no plans to visit the house that day, but he guesses it's not that unusual for them to make an appearance regardless of the fact.

When the sound of the front door opening echoes up the stairs, Stiles stands stock-still and prays that whoever it is doesn't come up looking for him. He hopes they'll come to the conclusion that no one's there and go back to their own home. His luck is still on the sour side, though, as he finds out a minute later.

Stepping into the foyer, Isaac frowns when he scents something odd in the air. It's not close by, so it's not very strong and it takes him several seconds to identify it.

All the warning Stiles gets before his bedroom door is kicked in roughly is the sound of thundering footsteps coming up the stairs. When Isaac steps into view and freezes where he stands a few feet away, he holds his breath and the other boy's shocked eyes, waiting to see what the beta's reaction will be. The fact that he's still naked doesn't even enter his mind. When it looks like Isaac is just going to stand there gaping at him, Stiles turns back to the mirror and continues taking care of his injuries. He picks up a long strip of gauze and gets halfway through taping it over one of the long gashes on his side when an unexpected hand closes around his own, halting his movements. In his head, he curses the silent footsteps of his lycanthropic friend.

"Stiles... What the hell happened...?" Isaac enquires gently. He keeps his voice quiet, his experience with his deceased father giving him the ability to easily recognise the look Stiles has in his eyes.

He used to see it all the time in his own.

Isaac tries to keep his eyes up so he doesn't accidentally get a look at something he shouldn't, but he can't help himself when Stiles takes his hand back and turns away from him a little more to stick down some of the tape on his side more firmly. The entirety of the other boy's back looks red and irritated, like he has a rash or something similar. Stepping forward, a closer inspection makes him realise what it really is—a severe case of carpet burn. Coupled with the small patch of blood and other bodily fluids he can see smeared just below Stiles' ass, this clues him in to what the human teen must have suffered through before he arrived. The other boy stinks to high heaven, and it's a real struggle to keep back all the questions he wants to ask, like how it happened, who caused it, and where Derek has gone. The thought of the answers he might get would be enough to scare him into keeping his mouth closed anyway, but it's the fact that Stiles doesn't appear in the right mindset to offer any yet that actually stops him from asking for them. He can wait.

"It wasn't his fault..." is all the reply Stiles offers before going silent again. He's stopped from continuing the somewhat shoddy treatment his injuries when Isaac gently takes the roll of tape from him.

The beta lays it down on the countertop next to the gauze before pulling Stiles out of the bathroom. "That's not going to be enough, I don't think... You're gonna need stitches for some of these cuts," Isaac points out, wincing in sympathy when looks over them all again.

Stopping quickly next to the dresser, he pulls a pair of baggy pyjama bottoms from one of the drawers and hands them off to Stiles to put on. He sighs and keeps his eyes averted when he has to crouch down low to help the human teen step into them. "We should get Melissa over here so she can check you over properly. I think she can do the stitches herself, and she'll probably give you something for the pain and make sure nothing gets infected or something as well..." With that, he wraps a careful arm around Stiles' shoulders and forces the other boy to join him downstairs. When they get into the living room, he takes his phone out from his jeans pocket and taps the screen a couple of times to bring up Melissa McCall's number before holding it up to his ear.

As much as he knows Isaac is right, Stiles isn't really looking forward to having the woman see him in such a state. He knows she'll make him tell her what happened, and he really doesn't feeling like getting into it just yet, especially not with her. Still, he settles on the sofa when Isaac pushes him down onto it and decides to accept his fate, hiding his wince when his ass twinges painfully again.

Maybe if he whips out his best puppy eyes, he can get Melissa to go easy on him. He won't have to look far inside himself to find the sadness he'll need.

It's not long before there's a knock at the door and Isaac goes to answer it, which leaves Stiles alone in the living room. The human teen hears hushed talking coming from the foyer, and he guesses this is just Isaac explaining the current situation to Melissa; he hopes the other boy isn't going into too much detail. After about a minute, the talking cuts off and three sets of footsteps approach. Confused, Stiles turns to look over the back of the sofa and gets a surprise when he sees Scott approaching behind his mother. In hindsight, he supposes he should've known—if the situation were reversed, he would definitely want to be there for his best friend as well.

"Hey, Stiles, honey," Melissa greets gently, dressed in her scrubs with a medical kit slung over her shoulder. It's the same one she used to clean Stiles up at the sheriff's station right after his dad's death. "How are you feeling?"

"Honestly? I don't really know," Stiles replies quietly, keeping his eyes on Melissa as she walks around the sofa and kneels down in front of him.

The way she's talking to him as if he's a trauma victim annoys him a little, but he doesn't comment on it, especially not when a quick reassessment of the situation ends with him admitting to himself that he basically is one. He watches as she places her bag on the coffee table before unzipping it and pulling out the tools she'll need to check him over properly. When he sees the curved needle used for administering sutures, he shies away from it, wiggling nervously in place and grimacing prematurely. He can already anticipate how unpleasant that experience will be. His attention is torn away from Melissa when Scott takes the seat right next to him, and he prepares himself for the onslaught of questions he guesses are coming. He's grateful when they never do, though, the beta apparently using his senses for once and cottoning on to the fact that he has none to give and most likely won't until the next day at the very least.

Nodding understandingly, Melissa puts on a pair of disposable rubber gloves and shuffles closer to Stiles, pushing him back to lean against the cushions so she can get a better look. She keeps her touches brief as she examines the gashes on his torso with a critical eye, assessing the damage and running through the necessary treatments in her head. "You're actually quite lucky," she offers eventually, breaking the silence that has fallen over the room.

Grabbing a disinfectant wipe, she begins running it gently down all of the cuts to make sure they're actually clean before she does anything else.

"Oh, really?" Stiles replies sarcastically, looking up at the ceiling.

Even though he's aware that Melissa still doesn't have the full story and that she's most likely just pointing out the fact that he could've been hurt much worse, he still responds negatively to her words. He doesn't consider anything about the situation 'lucky' in the slightest—quite the opposite, in fact. Getting mauled by your feral lover is obviously something he's not happy about, especially when he doesn't even know how Derek is taking it all, whether he's off beating himself up or doing something stupid because of it.

"Yes, really," Melissa replies, choosing to ignore Stiles' tone. "I can treat you here without having to take you to a hospital. That would just lead to questions I'm sure you don't want to answer, so small miracles I suppose." It's tricky to know how to act. She's torn between her professionalism and her motherly instincts, one half of her wanting to just do her job efficiently and the other wanting to coddle Stiles like a little boy. In the end, she lets the professional half take control, guessing that Stiles will get the support he should need from Scott and Isaac. Gathering all of her suturing equipment, she waits for Isaac to get into position on Stiles' other side before beginning. The first stitch is the hardest to do, the want to stop almost taking over as soon as she hears Stiles' resulting hiss of pain, but she pushes past it, knowing that getting it all done quickly will be best.

Stiles grits his teeth and squeezes his eyes shut for the first few seconds until he feels the sting of the needle suddenly disappear. Cracking open an eye, he glances to the side and feels a surge of gratitude when he sees black veins crawling up Scott and Isaac's arms.

"Almost finished..." Melissa assures several long minutes later, tying off the last stitch and cutting the excess thread off. The last step is to cover it with a bandage. "There. All set."

"Thanks," Stiles breathes once the last piece of tape has been stuck down, nodding his permission for Scott and Isaac to cease siphoning off his pain. He gets a small rush of it when their hands and his skin lose contact, but it's quick to pass and fade into something more manageable. Feeling a bit parched, he sends Scott off the kitchen to get him a glass of water, drinking it down as soon as the beta returns and places it in his hand.

Packing away most of her kit again, Melissa notices the way Stiles is holding himself as still as possible, his movements slow so he doesn't disturb his wounds or pull his stitches. Knowing that regular over-the-counter medication won't do the trick, she searches through the bottom of her bag and pulls out a small bottle of morphine and a new syringe. "It's getting pretty late, so I'm going to give you a shot of this to help with the pain, and then I want you to go right up to bed and get some rest, OK?" she informs Stiles, filling the syringe and tapping the end against the bottle to make sure it's functioning properly. Finding a vein quickly when Stiles holds out his arm, she inserts the needle and pushes down on the plunger. Once she's injected what she guesses will be enough, she tapes a small cotton ball over the tiny bleeding mark left behind and raises her eyes to the ceiling pointedly. "Right, up you go."

The morphine quickly exacerbating his rapidly depleting energy levels, Stiles is quick to follow the woman's instruction without argument, leaning into Isaac's side when the beta offers to help him up the stairs.

He ruffles the tall beta's hair when he's deposited gently on the bed. "Good boy..." he mumbles sleepily, snuggling back into the pillows and forgetting in his morphine haze that someone crucial is missing next to him. The last thing he registers before succumbing to unconsciousness is the light being turned off and the soft click of the door as Isaac closes it behind himself.

* * *

- Tuesday, September 4th, 2012 -

As Melissa suggested, Stiles stays home from school the next day to give his stitches a proper chance to work their magic, with Isaac, Erica and, surprisingly, Boyd joining him. He tried to wave off their concerns and make them attend their lessons, but none of them listened and he didn't have the heart to force them with an alpha-mate order. Everybody else goes as if everything's normal and Stiles' life isn't completely falling apart before their eyes. The whole pack ditching on the same day would bring them all unwanted attention anyway, and four already looks suspicious enough as it is. Instead of just sitting at home, letting the three betas take care of his every want and need, because Derek still hasn't come back yet, Stiles suggests they go and look for the alpha themselves.

Because the morphine has now left his system and he doesn't want to ask Melissa for more, he can't move without causing himself pain. Because of this, he basically becomes a base of operations in his and Derek's house while the three betas search elsewhere.

Stiles texts them constantly with new ideas he has about where his mate might have run off to. The man's black Camaro still sits right next to his blue one outside, and that immediately tells them all that wherever their alpha has gone, he went there on foot. Derek's shoes are still in their place inside the front door, and the fact that the man rushed from the house without putting them on gives Stiles some insight into how distraught he must've been in that moment. He doesn't blame Derek, especially not since he has fairly recent experience with being made to do something against his will and the guilt that comes with that.

He really wouldn't put it past the man to not have been thinking at all. He knows Derek would've just wanted to get away—the method probably didn't matter in the slightest.

Derek's scent trail is easy enough to find, made more pungent than normal because it's contaminated with blood, shame and just about every other negative emotion under the sun. The only problem is that it leads far outside of Beacon Hills, to a place where the ground is damp with fresh rain. This basically puts an end to the trail, so Erica, Isaac and Boyd return to Stiles with their tails between their legs, disheartened.

It's about an hour before school should let out that there comes a knock at the door.

Since Isaac is busy looking over the claw marks on his sides, checking to make sure he hasn't popped any of his stitches and that there isn't an infection setting in anywhere, Stiles looks pleadingly at Erica and smiles gratefully at the blonde beta when she graciously goes to see just who their unexpected guest is. Still, he manages to crane his head around and look over the back of the sofa to try and get a look at them himself without disturbing Isaac's work. He hears Erica open the door, followed by some quiet talking, but he frowns when he finds he can't make out any of the words. A few seconds later, Erica comes back through into the large archway with a guilty look on her face.

Stiles wonders why briefly before their guest follows her into the room a couple of seconds later. He doesn't have time to push Isaac away and cover himself up before Jordan Parrish gets a look at him.

Coming a halt when he gets halfway around the sofa, Parrish's eyes are wide with shock as he stares at the long lines of black stitches that run down either side of Stiles' torso. The whole room seems to go still along with the man, and no one else moves an inch until he takes a couple of aborted steps closer and falls down in the seat next to the scared-looking boy. "Stiles... Who did this to you...?" he enquires breathlessly, rage building in his gut at the idea that someone would dare touch and harm the human teen, who he considers a good friend, in such a way.

Parting his lips in preparation to spout off some hastily thought out excuse to appease Parrish's concerns, Stiles doesn't even get the first word out before the man interrupts him. He forgets to close his mouth again when he hears the next series of questions Parrish asks him in a rush.

"Did Derek do this? Is he hurting you? God, why didn't you come to me sooner?! I'm gonna make sure he fries for this, mark my words... He's not gonna get away with it!" Parrish exclaims, leaping up from his seat again and pulling Stiles up with him. "C'mon; I'm taking you out of here before he can lay another finger on you." He doesn't know why the teen struggles against his hold when he tries to pull him through to the foyer and out the front door, away from his abuser. His confusion about the whole situation only increases when he gets a look at the disapproving expressions on Isaac, Boyd and Erica's faces and at the amusement he sees forming on Stiles'. He frowns when Isaac moves forward and wrenches Stiles out of his grip. "What's wrong with you three? Don't tell me you actually want him to stay here after what Derek's done..."

Allowing himself one small chuckle, Stiles dutifully sits back in his place on the sofa while Isaac checks him over again. He knows it would be pointless to try to stop him; the beta won't be satisfied until he sees that his stitches are all still intact with his own eyes. Turning back to Parrish, his expression softens when he sees how befuddled the man looks by his refusal.

"Why don't you have a seat? We've got a lot to talk about, it seems..." Stiles sighs, settling in for what he knows will be a long and tiring conversation.

Hesitantly, Parrish complies, skirting back around the sofa while keeping his distance from Erica, who looks one wrong move away from actually attacking him. The fact that Boyd has a hand resting on the girl's shoulder seems to be the only thing actually holding her back for the time being.

Taking a deep breath, Stiles locks eyes with Isaac when the beta pulls away, his inspection finally finished. He holds up a hand and curls his fingers like claws to intimate his plan to the curly-haired beta, smiling gratefully at him when he nods. "Right... What I'm gonna say next is going to sound crazy and it's probably gonna make you worry about me even more," he starts off, shifting in place with nervous energy when he notices how focused on him Parrish appears to be. "I guess I should just come out and say it... Werewolves are real." He bites on his bottom lip when the deputy just continues looking at him blankly, like he's waiting for the punchline of a joke. As he thought, when he doesn't give one, Parrish looks a little scared for his sanity.

Wordlessly, Stiles gestures for Isaac to take over.

Waiting until Parrish's gaze flicks over to his face, Isaac taps into the wolf at his core and lets his face shift into its beta form. He bares his fangs and flashes his eyes.

Parrish screams in surprise and flails backward off of the sofa, landing with a thud on the floor as he reaches for the firearm strapped to his waist. He doesn't get further than raising the gun a few inches into the air before he hears a growl coming from his right and the weapon is knocked from his hand. He stares in terror up at Erica's snarling face, flinching when one of her long blonde curls comes loose from her ponytail and brushes against his cheek.

"Erica!" Stiles yells, his tone dripping with his alpha-mate authority. "That's enough!" He glares the girl into submission before ordering her to go with Boyd into the kitchen to calm down. When the couple are gone—the annoyed expression on Erica's face tells Stiles that he'll have to do some grovelling later when Parrish is gone if he wants to make it up to her—he returns his attention to the deputy, offering a hand to help him up again. He waits until Parrish puts his gun back in its holster before continuing. "Now, where were we? Ah, yes...werewolves. As you've just seen, they're very real." He goes on to explain all of the basics, about the pack and its hierarchy, his place by Derek's side and a brief overview of everything that's happened over the past year and a half since it all started. He pats Parrish on the knee when the man just stares at him, feeling a little bad about being the one to make him aware of his ignorance.

It's sadly a necessity, though, because he simply can't let the well-meaning deputy walk away with such terrible misconceptions about his mate.

Parrish remains silent through the entirely of Stiles' explanation, struggling to comprehend everything he's being told. If he's honest with himself, when he thinks back to all the strange things he's seen in the news and while working his shifts down at the station, all the pieces seem to fit together and make sense.

In the end, when they move on to discuss things in more depth, Stiles lays out several pieces of paper on the coffee table and writes it all down. It becomes something of a timeline, detailing all of the events that lead up to that moment, and Parrish is understandably shocked when he's told of what really happened to the late sheriff all those months ago. "So Derek's uncle Landon is the one who killed your dad? And then you killed him? This is crazy!" he rants, pacing back and forth in front of the fireplace. He feels a little betrayed about being kept in the dark about that particular part for so long, but after thinking it over for a minute, he supposes he understands why. It is an awfully big secret, and he's seen enough science fiction movies to know that supernatural creatures becoming known to the general populous never works out well.

Still, he never for a second thought it would be a situation he'd face in real life.

"Basically, yes," Stiles replies, popping the cap back on the pen he was using and leaning back into the sofa cushions. His stitches have started to get a little sore from his being curled forward for so long, and he sighs in relief when the pain begins ebbing off again.

"So what's happening now? You still haven't given me another explanation about who did that to you," Parrish points out, his eyes flicking pointedly between Stiles' sides.

Averting his eyes, Stiles swallows tightly and finally picks his shirt up again to put back on. He doesn't want any more staring. "I was hoping you'd forgotten about that part..." he chuckles darkly, thankful that Isaac has stuck around the entire time to provide moral support. He knows that Parrish is a good person, and he's taking having his world turned on its head surprisingly well, but discussing his personal life with the older man still makes him uncomfortable. There's also the small worry in the back of his mind that Parrish will still blame Derek after he finds out the truth. Erica and Boyd pop their heads through from the kitchen before he can open his mouth again, wanting to be around, too. He lets them under the condition that the blonde keeps it together from then on.

Once everyone is gathered on the sofas again, Boyd and Erica at his sides, Isaac sat between his legs, and Parrish in one of the armchairs, Stiles looks back at the deputy. "We're still not really sure what's going on, but I think there's someone new in town messing with us," he explains.

When Parrish's eyes flick down to Stiles' hand, he realises that he's begun absentmindedly running his fingers through Isaac's hair, much to the beta's pleasure. "Pack thing," he dismisses, his cheeks heating up even though he tries to keep his tone casual. "Anyway...this person's been casting spells or putting curses on us all one at a time. It's supposed to tap into a person's fears and manifest them in fucked up ways. Erica and Isaac were the first to be affected, and yesterday, Derek was, too. I know him well enough by now to know that one of his biggest fears is hurting the people he loves, and I took the brunt of it. It wasn't his fault."

"Where is he now...?" Parrish asks nervously, glancing up at the ceiling like he thinks his presence is causing the man in question to hide away up there, scared of arrest.

"That's what we were trying to work out before you showed up; I have no clue where he's gone. All I know is that he took off after it happened, probably blaming himself and thinking that I hate him now..." Stiles replies, sighing tiredly. As much as he loves him, his mate's tendency to blame himself for everything does get a little tiring every now and then. "Now that we're on the subject, why are you here?" He realises how rude his question could sound and hastens to expand on it.

"Not that I'm not happy to see you, because I am—it's been too long, really. I'm just curious..."

Parrish is glad that the conversation is shifting into something more normal; he finds it much easier to deal with. "I missed seeing you down at the station, and after I ran into Derek last week, I thought I'd come see how you were doing," he explains, shrugging.

"I'm flattered," Stiles chuckles, wincing when the gentle shaking of his body causes his injuries to make themselves known again. He quickly calms himself down to avoid more of it. "Well, you're always welcome to stop by, I suppose. I know I'd be happy to see some more of you, and though I think Derek'll be a little miffed that I let you in on our furry little secret without his input, I'm sure he'll deal when I explain to him why it was necessary. Who knows—maybe this'll actually make things easier. I'm sure there'll be more supernatural shit happening in this town for years to come, and it'll probably be helpful to have someone who's part of the law in the know. That position used to be filled by my dad, but...you know. Just don't tell anyone else, OK? This is all dangerous enough without more people knowing, and if they did, they'd be in danger, too."

"I promise," Parrish replies, nodding.

* * *

"Where did Stiles say it happened again?" Allison asks as she gets into the back of Lydia's car. School has just let out for the day, and she, Lydia and Scott have plans to check out the site of the most recent attack to see if they can find any clues.

"Somewhere in the preserve, just a few minutes from the house, I think," Lydia answers readily, easily remembering everything Stiles said the previous evening. There's still the tiniest bit of anger bubbling just beneath the surface of her carefully held veneer, caused by Jackson's refusal to join the trio on their quest. It was another moment during which she wondered why she loves the irritating and stubborn beta, especially given that he still maintains his old selfish attitude. The day felt strange with some members missing from their little pack, but even so, she went about it like it was any other, wanting to keep up appearances. Since she and Stiles usually share all of their classes that day, she made two copies of all of her notes just so he doesn't end up falling behind. Even though she did it purely out of the goodness of her heart, she thinks that if the boy decides he wants to repay her for her tireless efforts, she won't be saying 'no'.

Leaving his bike in the lot to pick up later, Scott gets in the backseat of Lydia's car next to Allison and straps himself in. "I still can't believe that happened..." he mumbles, rubbing absently at his chest. There's been a constant ache there ever since the previous evening, presumably because of his strong connection to Stiles.

"Yeah, well...let's not get into that again just now," Lydia suggests as she presses her foot down on the pedal, effectively putting an end to the conversation.

It only takes a few minutes for the trio to come to a stop next to the outskirts of the preserve, the redhead locking her car up after everyone gets out. They stick close together as they trek through the trees, just in case whoever attacked Stiles and Derek decides to come back for another go. Scott uses his nose to guide the way, picking up on the faint scent of magic almost immediately and following it. He remembers overhearing a conversation between Stiles and Deaton not too long ago—the vet was explaining how magic smells different from person to person, like a signature that will tell curious noses just who cast what. Because the scent he's tracking now is nothing like what he's picked up whenever he's been witness to Stiles performing magic, he assumes it must belong to the stranger who has decided to wreak havoc on their lives and cause them all trouble.

The smell stays faint for a long time before suddenly increasing in potency.

Scott picks up his pace as it gets stronger and stronger, not stopping until the trees part into a clearing. He sees evidence of a fight everywhere he looks, from the disturbed dirt on the ground to the scorch mark on one of the opposite trees. "I guess this is the place," he says needlessly as Allison and Lydia catch up to him.

"Looks like it," Allison concurs, holding her arms out to balance herself as he makes her way down the steep slope leading to the bottom of the clearing.

"What exactly are we looking for?" Scott asks, choosing to stay at the top of the incline and keep watch. Something catches his eye on the ground, and when he crouches down to get a better look, he finds a small puddle of clear, viscous fluid that somehow still looks fresh. Smaller droplets of the stuff are scattered around the puddle, like it splattered off of whatever it impacted on. Assuming it's left over from the previous afternoon's attack, Scott finds it odd that it hasn't even started drying. When he sticks a curious finger into it, he recoils in shock when the tip of the digit instantly starts burning. "Ouch! I think this is what was thrown at Derek... That shit hurts!" He holds his finger close to his chest as if he's shielding something precious from harm.

Rolling her eyes, Lydia joins Allison at the bottom of the clearing. "Of course it does, you idiot... It practically burned all the skin on Derek's hands off..." she reminds him. "And to answer your question, we're looking for any clues that'll reveal who this mysterious new villain is."

Nodding his understanding, Scott checks his finger again and feels relief when he sees the skin is no longer red and irritated. He keeps a wide berth from the clear fluid from then on.

Kneeling down on the ground, Allison looks over the scuff marks in the dirt and picks out what she thinks is a complete footprint. Putting her own foot next to it, she deduces that the print is only a size or two larger than her shoe. This leads her to the conclusion that their new enemy is most likely female, though she guesses they could still be a man with smaller than average feet. She's brought out of her musing when Lydia calls out to her and Scott, and she quickly stands again to make her way over to the redhead to see what other clue has been found.

"Look at this!" Lydia says excitedly as she reaches for something hidden between two tree roots, her fingers latching onto a thin chain. After some gentle tugging to unstick it, she pulls the object out and lays it on her palm for Scott and Allison to see.

Derek's original triskelion necklace glints up at them in the sunlight.

A frown appears on all of their faces when they see that it's damaged, mostly likely beyond repair, with half of the pendant melted and twisted at a strange angle and the ruby gone entirely. "I guess this is how they're casting their spells on us," Lydia theorises, turning the necklace over in her hands. "One of you should text the others and ask if they've noticed anything going missing recently. I think I read somewhere that spells like this are stronger if they use something of great sentimental value, so they should check everything like that first." On the third rotation, she notices something tangled in the small ring through which the chain and the pendant are connected. It's a blonde hair, long and slightly greasy. Grimacing as she extricates it, she wonders whether it belonged to their mystery attacker and if it can be used in a locator spell or something—she guesses there's no harm in trying.

With that, she tucks the necklace and the hair into one of her skirt pockets for safekeeping, planning on returning the former to Derek whenever he finally reappears and bringing the latter up with Stiles after he and his mate are reunited. She hopes they both happen soon. Following one last sweep of the area, she calls their investigation to an end.

Scott once again leads the two girls on the way back to Lydia's car.

"I'm going to check over all my possessions very closely when I get home, and I suggest the two of you do the same," the banshee instructs when her vehicle comes back into view and she opens the driver's-side door. Sliding behind the wheel, she checks her hair in the mirror before sticking the keys in the ignition and reversing back out onto the road.

* * *

Parrish departs for the station a little while later, following a promise that he'll come back for dinner one night once the current threat has passed and everything has settled down again. Much to Stiles' dismay, Erica, Isaac and Boyd also leave shortly after the deputy, spouting off apologies and excuses that their parents and Melissa want them home earlier that usual because they skipped school that day. This leaves Stiles alone in the house with his thoughts, a dangerous turn of events given the true state of his mind. To pass the time, he goes upstairs to his and Derek's bedroom and tries to clean his blood out of their carpet. He can't work at it as hard as he would like because of his injuries—Melissa can be incredibly intimidating, so he doesn't want her getting mad at him should he pull his stitches—but it doesn't really matter. No amount of scrubbing could get rid of the two rather sizeable red patches on the otherwise cream-coloured carpet.

Reaching the conclusion that he'll just have to take the whole thing up when he's feeling better, he prays that his recovery his fast; he doesn't want the reminder to still be there when Derek returns.

Giving up on his cleaning, Stiles switches off the light and grabs one of Derek's sweaters before tucking himself and it into bed to watch brainless television. He holds the sweater up to his nose and breathes in Derek's scent, hoping he'll be able to trick himself into not feeling the man's absence as deeply. Unfortunately, it doesn't work, and every second that Derek isn't there with him, his mind races with endless possibilities, each one worse than the last.

Will he ever see Derek again? Is he out there somewhere, hurting himself out of guilt? What will things be like if he does come back?

Wiping angrily at his eyes when a tear slips out and trails down his cheek, Stiles wants to slap himself for getting so worked up. Because he hid how much emotional pain he was really in from the betas all day, there's not much he can do to stop his anguish now that he's finally beginning to let it out.

He finds himself curled up on his side, desperately trying to keep quiet as he sobs into Derek's sweater, the television going forgotten and turning into nothing but white noise. Each new sob that claws its way out of his throat jerks his body and sends new waves of pain through him, his stitches threatening to pull and break. Eventually, his cries get quieter until they stop completely. He just lies there beneath the blankets as the occasional tear runs unbidden down onto the pillow beneath his head. His nose is still buried into the soft fabric of Derek's sweater and his eyes are blank as he stares at the opposite wall, the bed feeling cold and unwelcoming without his mate's warm body pressed up behind him, keeping him toasty and comfortable.

The rest of the night passes by at a snail's pace, the numbers on the clock on the nightstand changing slowly like they're taunting him.

* * *

Like she said she would do, as soon as Lydia drops Allison and Scott off at the latter's house—the heated looks they gave each other as they got out of her car left absolutely no doubt in her mind as to what they would be doing as soon as they were left to their own devices, especially not when she spied Kira waiting for them on the doorstep—she begins sorting through all of her possessions, looking for anything missing or out of place. She stops off at the school first to check her locker, glad that it's staying open late that day because of a chess club meeting. When she passes the quiet room in which it's taking place, she stops briefly to look through the little window in the door, shaking her head when she sees pairs of stereotypically nerdy boys spread out across the desks, divided up into their own games. Scores are written up on the blackboard, so she guesses they must be participating in some sort of tournament.

"I'll never get it..." Lydia mumbles to herself as she continues on her mission, rounding the corner to the corridor in which her locker resides. Even though she considers herself something of an expert in the game, so much so that she could probably best each one of the club's members without blinking, she doesn't find enough enjoyment in it to understand spending week after week obsessing over it. Still, she guesses it's just another case of 'different strokes for different folks', as the saying goes.

Finally reaching her locker, she enters the combination easily before opening it and running a careful eye over everything kept within.

She doesn't really expect anything to be different than the last time she saw it—it's not entirely out of the realm of possibility that whoever is terrorising them all has already collected what they need from everybody—but she doesn't see the harm in checking just to be sure.

A five-minute search proves her theory to be correct, and it's not much longer before she's closing the door and leaving again, with the intent to turn her entire bedroom upside down. She checks her hair and makeup in her car's rearview mirror before peeling out of the parking lot, keeping one hand on the steering wheel as she palms Derek's ruined triskelion necklace through her skirt pocket with the other. She contemplates the implications of the find again, wondering how it came be in the state in which she found it and why it was left where it was.

It doesn't make any sense.

When she pulls her car to a stop outside of her house and opens the driver's-side door, Lydia pauses before shutting it again when she feels an itch at the base of her skull, like someone's watching her. She whips her head from side to side to see if she can spot anyone, but the area appears completely deserted.

It reminds her unnervingly of the similar incident that took place almost a full month previous, right after she finished watching a movie with some packmates.

The thought creeping her out more than she would care to admit, she scurries inside her house, not wanting to be out in the open by herself any longer. She makes sure to lock the door behind herself before heading straight up the stairs to her bedroom and tossing her bag down on top of the sheets of her bed. A shiver runs through her body when she realises how cold it is, and when she glances over at the window, she finds out why. It's wide open, the curtains blowing wildly as frigid air filters through it. Rushing over, she slams it shut, frowning when she thinks back to earlier that morning. It's not a good sign that she doesn't remember leaving it open.

* * *

- Monday, September 17th, 2012 -

Derek doesn't return until almost two full weeks have crawled slowly past. Stiles spends that time walking through his life like a zombie, putting the least amount of effort into everything because he just can't find the energy or motivation to do more. His mind is elsewhere. Everybody at school stares at him constantly, and he can't blame them. He knows how much of a mess he looks, putting no thought into his appearance whatsoever after each sunrise comes and his mate still isn't in bed next to him. The only saving grace is that his long-sleeved flannel overshirts hide the claw marks on his arms and sides from prying eyes. The entire time, Lydia tries to pick up the slack when it comes to his school work, doing all of his assignments for him so he doesn't get into too much trouble with his teachers, but even her generosity and amazing intellect can only stretch so far.

Stiles supposes his rapidly deteriorating mental state is made worse by his and Derek's mating bond. He would feel terrible about what happened anyway, but when the alpha's emotions are added on top of his own, it's enough to make his chest literally ache each second he's awake. Sleep is hard to come by, so he feels it nearly all the time. He can tell that the pack, Charlie and even his teachers are worried about him, but he can't find it in himself to care.

He just ignores any worried glances and answers all questions about his wellbeing with monotonous repetitions of, "I'm fine," that ease no one's concern.

When Stiles gets home from school, he tosses his backpack over the back of the living room sofa and walks through to the kitchen to get himself a drink of water—the fact that he hasn't had anything to eat or drink since he woke up that morning has left his throat feeling particularly dry. Because his stomach wouldn't be able to keep it down anyway, he didn't see the point in trying until, as he was leaving for the day, Erica stormed over to him in the school parking lot and slapped him across the face. The words that followed were what made him rethink his earlier decision, and they play back through his mind as he gulps down the ice-cold liquid:

"You listen and you listen good, Stiles Stilinski! It's bad enough that Derek's off somewhere wallowing in his man-pain and leaving us to deal with the fallout, but I swear to God, Stiles, if you don't snap the fuck out of this right now and actually start taking care of yourself, then I'm gonna kill you myself!"

By this point, the loudness of Erica's voice had drawn quite a crowd, every one of the other students in the surrounding area curious to see what the commotion was about.

"Even that would be better than watching you waste away like this again. I can't go through that a second time, and even though no one else has the guts to say it, I know they can't either. Derek'll come back whenever he manages to get his head out of his ass, and don't you think it would be good if he came back to a mate that isn't a total wreck? The sight of you like this is just going to send him spiralling over the edge, too, and then this pack will be down an alpha and an alpha's mate. Things better be different when I see you tomorrow, Stiles... At the very least, I actually want to see you eat something."

Those were the last words spoken, and Stiles was in too much shock to even make an attempt at replying. Erica had then pulled him into a tight, bone-crushing hug before scurrying away to rejoin Boyd and Isaac on the other side of the lot, wiping hastily at her eyes as she went.

He'll have to give Erica a proper thank you the next time he sees her, because that was the wakeup call he sorely needed.

Even if he's not doing it for himself, he knows the blonde beta was right. Derek will need someone to lean on whenever he reappears, someone to tell him there wasn't anything he could have done and to assure him that nobody lays the blame for what happened on him. Stiles will be that person. He's determined not to let this break them, so once all the water is drained from the fresh bottle still in his hand, he throws it carelessly in the direction of the recycling bin before grabbing some leftover Chinese food from the fridge and forcing it down his throat. Someone from the pack has been in the house with him at all times—even Jackson, though Stiles suspects Lydia played a hand in that one—and he's glad for it now since it means he actually has something to eat. He's been seriously slacking in his duties for the past couple of weeks, leaving the cupboards and pantry nearly bare.

It's when Stiles is halfway through making a mental list of the essentials he'll need to stock back up on that he hears the front door open. Assuming that it's just another of the betas coming to check on him, he gets a big surprise when he walks into the foyer and sees who's really standing at the bottom of the stairs. "Derek...?" he croaks, his mouth gaping and his eyes wide.

The alpha in front of him looks absolutely terrible, like a shadow of his former self. The clothes he must have quickly put on before fleeing the house are torn up and caked in dirt.

When it doesn't seem like Derek even heard him—the man remains frozen in place, staring down at the floor without so much as a twitch—Stiles hesitantly closes the distance between them and reaches out to touch his wolf's shoulder with a shaking hand. He wants to put up a brave face, but the fear that Derek may not be over whatever it was that caused him to attack the last time is right in the forefront of his mind, making him overly cautious. When their skin touches, he doesn't know whether to be relieved or not when his mate still doesn't react. The fact that his head is still attached is a plus, he supposes. "Der?" he asks again, his voice stronger this time.

Skin-to-skin contact combined with the second calling of his name seems to finally break Derek out of his own thoughts, his head snapping up and their eyes meeting. The tortured expression Stiles sees on the man's face makes his chest constrict, his heart faltering.

"Let's...let's get you cleaned up, OK?" Stiles offers, walking around Derek to head up the stairs. He doesn't have to look over his shoulder to know that his wolf is following, as the man's footsteps are oddly loud in the otherwise silent house. Once he gets into the bedroom, he's surprised when Derek just continues walking right past him, straight into the bathroom. The door gets closed in his face before he can follow. Guessing that Derek just needs some time to gather himself and his thoughts, Stiles allows the distance. He'd be lying if he said being around his mate again didn't make him feel a little anxious and uncomfortable, and he hates with a passion whoever the stranger was that they encountered in the preserve for destroying their previously easy companionship.

Truthfully, there's a small voice in the back of his mind telling him to run, to get out while he still has the chance. He ignores it, knowing—or hoping—that it's irrational.

While he waits for Derek to finish up in the bathroom, Stiles busies himself with cleaning. In his depression, he let their bedroom descend into a total pigsty; clothes are scattered across the floor, the carpet is still stained with his blood and other remnants from the last time they were together, and there's even shattered glass at the bottom of one of the walls. He let his anger at the whole situation get the better of him one night, and the glass of water he'd carried to bed with him was his outlet.

Coming to a stop in front of their dresser, Stiles pulls open one of the drawers and gets out a pair of Derek's sweatpants and his favourite of the man's shirts. It's v-necked, made of incredibly soft material, and brings out the startlingly beautiful colour of his wolf's eyes.

The bathroom door isn't locked, so he sneaks in briefly and places the clothes on the closed toilet seat. He doesn't even glance in the direction of the fogged-up shower, allowing Derek his privacy.

Since there's nothing he can really do about the blood-stained carpet in that moment, Stiles just gets a large towel from the linen closet and tosses it over the affected area like a rug. He guesses that's one of the reasons Derek hightailed it into the bathroom, to avoid having to look at a reminder of what happened and what he did. Stiles knows it wasn't actually Derek's fault, but he also knows the alpha's opinion on the matter is sure to differ greatly from his own. It's after he's smoothed out the towel and taken a seat on the bed that the bathroom door finally opens, with Derek emerging through it a few seconds later following a billowing of steam.

The man is dressed in the clothes Stiles picked out for him, and his posture is rigid, his body language just screaming how uncertain he is, like he's not sure he's welcome there any longer. The way Derek's eyes dart from the floor over to the open bedroom door just confirms this theory. Stiles can't have that, so before the man can make his escape, he reaches over and pulls him down next to himself on the mattress.

Derek lets himself be moved, though he keeps a sizeable distance between them both the entire time. He doesn't trust himself to be close to Stiles again just yet.

Taking a deep breath, Stiles figures it's best if he just dives right into the conversation he knows will be necessary for them to begin healing and moving on from this rough patch. "Look at me, Derek," he begins, keeping his tone as gentle and soothing as he can in an effort to make his wolf feel more at ease. He shuffles a little bit closer to the man when he keeps his eyes cast down, tilting the man's head up with a finger under his chin until he has no choice but to obey. "Der...I know what you're thinking, and I have to start this off by telling you that you're wrong. None of the fault for this lies with you, and no one else in the pack thinks otherwise." This finally gets a reaction, emotion appearing back in Derek's eyes. The disbelief the hazel orbs carry is heartbreaking.

"How can you say that?" the alpha chokes out. His voice is tight, his words sounding like they were ripped bloodily from his chest. "I hurt you! What I did was unforgivable..."

Choosing his words carefully, Stiles gets braver, his surety that Derek won't take off again growing stronger every second that passes with the man remaining seated right next to him. He brings them closer still, their sides almost touching, and moves his hand until his wolf's bearded cheek is cupped in his palm. "You're right—what you did was unforgivable," he agrees, soldiering on when Derek's eyes close with resignation and a lone tear slips free to run down onto his hand, "because there's absolutely nothing for me to forgive."

Mindful of the injuries he has that are still healing, Stiles gets up onto his knees and swings himself around so that he ends up perched in Derek's lap. He tilts the alpha's head back more and rests their foreheads together before continuing.

"The only person at fault here is whoever that asshole was in the preserve. They're the one who did this, not you," he whispers, bumping their noses together. The corners of his mouth turn up when he thinks he's finally getting through to Derek, his mate's hands latching on tightly to the back of his shirt and a shuddering breath puffing out across his lips. "The only thing I'm a little mad about is that it took you so long to come back, but I understand if you needed that long to work up the courage to face me again. But that's a conversation we can have later. I know it's going to take a while for you to really believe me since it's still in your nature to hold on to every little piece of baggage like a sort of self-imposed punishment, but for me, nothing's changed. I still love you more than I've ever loved anyone in my life. I'm still yours and you're still mine, and it's going to stay that way until we both die, and probably even after.

"You're my Sourwolf."

Stiles gasps in shock when Derek's arms wrap fully around him and pull their bodies flush together. The stitches in his sides pull dangerously, but he ignores the pain when he feels Derek shaking gently against him. He's baffled at first, not immediately realising what's happening, but his mind catches on quickly a few seconds later. It's like a dam breaking.

After Derek tucks his face into Stiles' neck and takes one last shuddering breath, a series of gut-wrenching sobs tear their way out from his throat as he releases all reins on his emotions for the first time in almost a decade.

The front of Stiles' shirt is quickly soaked through with the man's tears. All he can do is rest his chin atop Derek's head and run his hands soothingly up and down his back while he waits it out. He doesn't shush the alpha at all, guessing that he needs to get everything out and release all of his emotions at once. This outpouring has probably been held back and ignored for far too long to be considered healthy, lying just beneath the surface, waiting. Stiles is a little surprised that Derek is finally letting it out now, and it's a little disconcerting to see his usually strong and stoic mate crying and sobbing openly like he is, but he's grateful for it nevertheless. He holds on to the man just as tightly, the constricted feeling that's been in his chest for the past two weeks finally easing off and fading slowly with each new tear Derek sheds.

It's only when he catches the gasped apologies beginning to fall from his wolf's lips that Stiles tries to bring the man back down.

"Shh, it's OK, you're OK..." he coos quietly, pressing his lips to the dark strands of Derek's hair. He removes the alpha's face from his neck and starts peppering the tear-wet skin with more chaste kisses, paying no mind to the salt that gets on his tongue. He places the last one directly on Derek's lips, keeping them connected and sighing when his wolf lets him in and returns it.

The kiss goes on for several long minutes until Derek pulls away with one final sniffle. Stiles smiles down at him kindly as he wipes the last few tears from his cheeks. Even though his beard has grown long and wild, his face is blotchy, and his eyes are red and puffy from crying, he still thinks Derek is most gorgeous man he's ever met. "You feeling any better now?" he asks eventually, after they continue to just stare into each other's eyes silently for an indeterminate amount of time. He's glad when Derek nods a second later, looking away as his already-coloured cheeks become even more so with embarrassment. "C'mon. I was planning on getting something to eat before you showed up, and I'm betting you're hungry, too."